GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - As the Pyeongchang Games moved into the second week, here are some observations on the first 10 days:
1 There has been a disjointed feel here from the beginning. In Sochi, the Olympic Park was set up in a fashion that allowed athletes, media and spectators to interact relatively easily. People were able to circulate and mingle freely each day.
The Athlete’s Village and Media Village were located right next to the Olympic Park in Sochi making for easy access for all.
Here, the Athlete’s Village and Media Village in Gangneung are approximately a 15-minute bus ride away from the coastal cluster of venues, which include those for figure skating and short track skating, curling, and one ice hockey venue. However, the venue for women’s ice hockey (Kwandong Hockey Centre) is 15 minutes in the other direction.
So while Sochi was compact and convenient for the coastal cluster, here the situation is very different.
One of the stranger decisions made in relation to holding the Winter Games in South Korea was the move to put both the International Broadcast Center and the Main Press Center one hour away up in the mountains in Pyeongchang. This has created chaos for media based in the coastal cluster, resulting in long bus rides back and forth when needing to go to the IBC or MPC for press conferences or to take care of other business.
2 The winds in both Gangneung and Pyeongchang have been powerful and frightening at times, resulting in the postponement of several events. Last Wednesday, POCOG, the organizing body for the games, was forced to shut down its media venues at several sites due to the high winds. The IOC reported 16 staff members were injured that day.
There appear to be many more temporary structures erected here, huge tents to be exact, than there were in Sochi.
As I stood in line waiting to go through security for the Japan-Korea women’s game at Kwandong Hockey Centre on Feb. 14, a massive gust of wind broke off a branch of a huge tree overhead that was approximately three meters long and I estimate weighed about 25 kg. The branch came crashing down with a huge bang, landing about five meters away from where I was standing.
If it had fallen on those waiting in the security line, there no doubt would have been serious injuries suffered. Because it is the Olympics, not a single person left the line.
3 The Korean volunteers at the games have been exceptional. Very professional and friendly, it is clear they have all been well-trained. They always say, “have a nice day” or “enjoy your meal” when bidding you farewell or welcoming you into the dining hall.
4 The first few days in Gangneung, where I am based, were bitterly cold. However, there has been no rain or snow down here during the entirety of my stay. The weather has been much milder the past several days. It has been dry from the beginning.
After several days I went to the convenience store in the Media Village to buy some lip balm. The clerk apologized to me and said, “Sorry, we are sold out of it.”
5 Both the athletes and media are housed in huge block towers that are brand new and will be put on sale or turned over to buyers after the games end.
6 Among the athletic highlights of the first 10 days, a few stand out:
Yuzuru Hanyu’s second gold medal in figure skating earned the admiration of everybody. His guts and determination were the definition of the Olympic spirit.
I am certain the superstar will be Japan’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony.
Shaun White’s victory in the halfpipe on his final run, Chloe Kim’s near-perfect win in the women’s halfpipe and Mirai Nagasu becoming just the third woman to land a triple axel in the Olympics have all been noteworthy achievements.
The most surprising moment thus far was the stunning victory of Czech Republic skier/snowboarder Ester Ledecka in the women’s super-G. Not only did she shock the favorite to get the gold, she did it on skis that once belonged to American star Mikaela Shiffrin.
Gold medalist Nao Kodaira’s embrace of friend and South Korean competitor Lee Sang-hwa after the women’s 500 meters was a beautiful show of sportsmanship that was memorable.
Smile Japan’s historic victory over Korea was one to remember. They topped it in their next game with an overtime win over Sweden.
7 Past Olympic and world medalist sightings have been plentiful. In figure skating, two-time champion Katarina Witt (1984, 1988) and fellow gold medalists Robin Cousins (1980), Scott Hamilton (1984), Tara Lipinski (1998) and four-time world champion Kurt Browning are all here.
Japan’s skaters of yesteryear have also been visible, with Shizuka Arakawa, Daisuke Takahashi, and Akiko Suzuki all on hand at practices and competitions.
8 You have to admire how the organizers have gone the extra mile with the entertainment at the figure skating. They have both opera singers and a small orchestra on hand to occupy the crowd during breaks.
9 Security has been highly visible here, much more so than in Sochi. Whenever the combined Korean women’s hockey team or the North Korean pairs have competed, there has been a massive police presence.
10 One of the more humorous moments happened at the Japan-Korea hockey game when a Kim Jong Un impersonator somehow managed to make his way into the North Korean cheering squad section and take pictures of himself. He was swiftly ushered away by security.