PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Like an athlete who received a last-minute call to join her teammates at the Winter Olympics, I also made the cut for Pyeongchang at the eleventh hour, though my call-up wasn’t due to anyone’s injury but a late decision to bring an Aspen perspective to this international event.
At my first Winter Olympics as a credentialed press member, I’m finding the scope and size of the event to be breathtaking, despite my history of covering three Alpine skiing World Championships, multiple X Games and the 2017 World Cup Finals.
There are three media centers here in Alpensia Olympic Park, home to the cross-country and ski-jumping centers, as well as satellite facilities at the Alpine ski areas and the Phoenix Snow Park, where Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace will be vying for medals next week in the halfpipe.
The first Alpine event of the 23rd Winter Olympics, the men’s combined, was completed Tuesday, and there seemed to be a great sense of relief to get one of the 11 Alpine races finished after multiple days of weather-related postponements. Winner Marcel Hirscher, the Austrian with six straight World Cup overall titles under his belt, also was relieved to finally win an Olympic gold because he no longer has to answer “this stupid question” of why a medal had previously eluded his grasp.
The race delays have worked in my favor. Logistics and distance between venues kept me from the Feb. 14 women’s slalom, which eventually was postponed after a 90-minute delay. I’ll be better-prepared for Thursday’s downhill, which features a surging Wiley Maple, who will take on a course at Jeongseon Alpine Center that seems to suit his strengths.
Maple’s family gathered en masse Tuesday evening at the cross-country venue to cheer on fellow hometown hero Simi Hamilton, who was having a strong run until he crashed in the quarterfinals and landed in 20th. Hamilton has two other chances to medal.
My Olympic experience so far has involved neither crashes nor medals, though to put it in analogous ski terms, I’ve had to hike for a few gates. My train arrived into the Pyeongchang station Tuesday night after the buses already were done for the day, but fortunately an English-speaking volunteer helped track down a taxi. The next morning, those same buses were slow to get going, necessitating a long and pricey taxi ride to hunt down my credentials.
Whoops! In my rush to leave Aspen, I neglected to procure a converter for my laptop, which created a momentary panic and concern I’d have to return to bustling Seoul for this “specialty” item. Worries assuaged, because the Korean version of 7-Eleven sells an amazing scope of electronic gadgets.
Technology also has helped with the language barrier as — trying not to sound like the ugly American here — English speakers are sparse.
No doubt my learning curve is steep, but from the customs to the food to the myriad competitions where my press credential provides all access, I’m game to soak it all in.
Editor’s note: Madeleine Osberger’s trip to South Korea to cover the Olympics was made possible by Aspen Journalism, a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth, local and investigative news coverage. More at AspenJournalism.org.