The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who is Dinigeer Yilamujiang, the lighter of the Olympic cauldron?

Torch bearers Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Jiawen Zhao of Team China lit the Olympic cauldron on Friday night in Beijing. (Yonhap/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
3 min

During the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday, two Chinese athletes — cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Nordic combined athlete Zhao Jiawen — lit the Olympic cauldron.

The choice was notable because Yilamujiang is an ethnic Uyghur from Xinjiang. China has been accused of committing human rights abuses against the Uyghur population, which led to a diplomatic boycott of the games by the United States and other Western governments.

Beijing Olympics open with a glossy coat that can’t cover what’s underneath

Here’s what to know about Yilamujiang, as well as Zhao:

Dinigeer Yilamujiang

Yilamujiang, a 20-year old from Altay, Xinjiang, was involved in athletics from a young age. Her father is a cross-country skiing instructor, and by the time she was 5, she started to learn to ski to navigate her snowy hometown.

Yilamujiang trained for both cross-country skiing and the biathlon — which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting — when she was younger and was a distance runner in high school. She shifted her training focus to primarily cross-country skiing by the time she was 15.

She made her debut in an FIS event — the International Ski Federation — in 2018 and finished in 184th place in sprint cross-country skiing. By 2019, she was on China’s national team and, in March of that year, became the first Chinese medalist in an FIS-level event by finishing second in the opening women’s leg of a three-leg sprint series in Beijing.

“I am super excited to be able to finish my first international race with a result that I didn’t expect at all,” she told China Daily at the time.

As Olympics begin, Beijing projects ‘shared future’ of undisputed Chinese power

At the 2021 world championships, Yilamujiang finished 41st individually in the 10-kilometer event and helped her teammates finish 13th in the team sprint event. Before that, she finished in the top 10 of the 5-kilometer race twice in three Junior World Championship appearances.

She heads into the Olympics on a strong note following some of her best finishes at an FIS event at Hot Spring Xinjiang. She had top-four finishes in all three events she participated in during early January, including a first-place finish in a 5-kilometer event.

“My goal is to win a medal at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” Yilamujiang told CGTN.

Zhao Jiawen

Like Yilamujiang, Zhao got his start in cross-country skiing as well. But in 2016, after his cross-country coach moved to Nordic combined skiing — a mix of cross-country skiing and ski jumping — Zhao was convinced by his coach to change disciplines. Zhao is making history in this Olympics, becoming the first Chinese athlete to compete in Nordic combined at the Winter Games after qualifying with a 22nd-place finish at the Continental Cup in Russia in November.

“I really like the feeling to fly,” Zhao said in a 2020 interview. “To move in the air, to feel the different currents, it’s pure excitement. Those moments in the sky are the most precious to me.”

What to know about the Beijing Olympics

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have come to a close.

The United States finished fifth in the final medal standings at the Beijing Olympics, with eight gold, 10 silver and seven bronze. Here’s a look back at the Team USA athletes who reached the podium.

Watch Washington Post reporters recall notable moments from the 2022 Winter Games and what it was like to cover the Olympics from a pandemic bubble in Beijing.

In unusually strong words from the face of NBC’s Olympics coverage, Mike Tirico criticized the Olympic movement and the Russian Olympic Committee for the gruesome skating fiasco that marred the Games.

“Olympic governance is not apolitical. It is recklessly illogical. It is not protecting athletes and competitive integrity in adherence to the convoluted standards of the World Anti-Doping Agency.” Read Jerry Brewer.

Take this survey and tell us your thoughts on The Post’s coverage of the Beijing Olympics and international sports.