Notes from PyeongChang: Pin Trading, Team Support and More

By Troy Schwindt and Lynn Rutherford

Got pins, will trade!

selfieTennell and Chock ask, “Got any pins?”

Some athletes elected not to march in PyeongChang’s Opening Ceremony; standing out in the cold and wind for hours can aggravate injuries. But Bradie Tennell is determined to soak in as much of the excitement of her first Olympics as she can.

“Walking into the stadium, seeing the lights in the crowd and the U.S. flag, was amazing,” Tennell said. “I think I have a million pictures of that.”

Tennell shares a suite of rooms in the Olympic Village with fellow first-time Olympian Nathan Chen, and Olympic veterans Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The 20-year-old from the Chicago area, a newcomer on the senior international scene, is forming fast friendships.

“We’ve had a really nice time with Bradie,” Bates said. “We didn’t know her well before we came here and we’ve gotten to hang out with her a lot. She’s just very down-to-earth. She said, ‘I was at junior worlds 11 months ago.’ I said, ‘I was at junior worlds 10 years ago.’ I think she’s got the right mettle to skate well here.”

“We’re having such a great time rooming with her,” Chock said. “I think she’s an awesome addition to the team.”

At the Opening Ceremony, Tennell and Chock took advantage of the staging time prior to entering the Olympic stadium to meet their fellow athletes.

“We were running around trading pins, meeting people from different places,” Tennell said. “We kept saying, ‘Got any pins? Got any pins?’ I got so many. I got the Jamaican women’s bobsled team; I got Czech Republic, Serbia, Bulgaria and a ton of other places.”

Tennell’s mom, Jean, arrived in Korea early and spent time exploring the sites. An Olympic sponsor stepped up to fly her younger brothers, Austin and Shane, to PyeongChang as well, and they arrive the second week of the Games.

“It means the world to me to have my family here,” Tennell said. “They’ve all been on this crazy journey with me.”

In stitches

After their successful short program in the team event, Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim fielded questions from the press. One of the questions concerned the stitches above Chris’ eye, right on the brow.

Apparently the two had a mishap in the days leading up to leaving for the Olympics when Alexa’s hip bone caught Chris above the eye during a practice.

“My sharp hipbone was the only body part that fell on him,” she joked. “He was laughing, but I was more startled and shocked about the blood than he was.”

Alexa added that the stitches match his costume.

Their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, put butterfly tape on the eye and took them to the emergency room to get stitched. Those stitches were scheduled to come out the day after their short program (team event).

tarah and dannySupporting their teammates

2018 U.S. pairs silver medalists Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea attended the team event’s short program to cheer on Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim. The two were near PyeongChang training as the first alternates, fresh off their victory at the Four Continents Championships in Taipei City, Chinese Taipei.

With only one U.S. pairs team qualified for the Olympics, Kayne and O’Shea were there in case the Knierims couldn’t skate for any reason.

With their coach Jim Peterson, they hoisted a U.S. flag in the stands, showing their support.

What a host!

It’s no surprise that South Korea was selected to host the 23rd Olympic Winter Games. Local organizers have put together an amazing event in terms of logistics and support. The PyeongChang Olympic Village houses more than 3,500 athletes and officials in the mountain cluster, while the Gangneung Olympic Village is the residence of 2,400 athletes (Team USA figure skaters included) and officials in the coastal cluster. Construction began on both residences in 2015.

The PyeongChang volunteer program drew 91,000 applicants. About 41,350 earned an interview. Of those, 16,200 locals were selected to work the Games. Their knowledge and professionalism has been amazing to watch. In total, the final volunteer pool is 22,400, with 5 percent of them made up of foreign applicants.

U.S. coach comes full circle

U.S. coach Jean Yun is representing the ISU for these Olympic Winter Games. Yun grew up skating in South Korea and competed at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria, under coaches John Nicks, Gary Visconti and Mabel Fairbanks.

Yun coaches in California at the East West Ice Palace in Los Angeles, Pickwick Ice in Burbank and Pasadena Ice Center.

“It’s the first Winter Olympics ever in Korea, and being part of it is awesome,” Yun said.

Yun and fellow coach Karen Kwan Oppegard are involved in an exchange program, in which they help in the development of Korean skaters. In April 2017, they visited the SunHak International Ice Rink in Incheon, South Korea, to work with skaters on their skills.

Paralympic Winter Games to follow

Following the completion of the 23rd Olympic Winter Games later this month, the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games will take place March 9-18 in PyeongChang. Approximately 50 countries and 670 athletes will compete. Six sports are on the Paralympic program.

U.S. sports largest athlete delegation

The U.S. is represented by the largest contingency at the Games with approximately 242 athletes. Canada is next with 226. The host nation of the Republic of Korea has their largest Winter Games representation ever, with 144 athletes.

Six countries are making their Olympic Winter Games debut: Ecuador (cross country skiing), Eritrea (alpine skiing), Kosovo (alpine skiing) Malaysia (figure skating), Nigeria (bobsled, skeleton) and Singapore (short track speed skating).

The musical sides of Tennell

So, what music does Bradie Tennell listen to when she’s getting ready to compete? How about something soothing – classical or light pop, perhaps?

Nope. As Tennell readied to take the ice for her short program in the team event, AC/DC’s “Jailbreak” was humming in her ears, in all its 1980s heavy metal glory.

“I’ve always loved that kind of music,” Tennell said. “It’s great for getting pumped up and working out.”

Her playlist, more than nine hours long, also features Queen, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and other ’80s bands, including REO Speedwagon.

“She listens to it at the rink all the time,” Denise Myers, who has coached Tennell in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, for more than 10 years, said. “It’s her preferred genre and era of music. Every time something comes up, I’ll ask, ‘What is that?’ and she’ll know.”

Do any of her fellow skaters object to the throwback choices and request something more contemporary?

“Oh no — they warm up to it,” Myers said. “Most of the kids like it. They all take turns playing music.”

When it came time to select her short program music, though, Tennell got inspiration elsewhere. She chose the soundtrack of Taeguki, a famous South Korean war film.

“This came about through a friend of Bradie’s, who is Korean,” Myers said. “(The friend) never got to skate to it, through injury or what not. So it was Bradie’s decision, and Hugo Chouinard did the editing.  A lot of people in the states don’t recognize the music, but as we said, ‘The Olympics are going to be in South Korea.’”

It seems like Tennell, considered a longshot for PyeongChang before the 2017-18 season started, was planning far ahead.