Troy’s Olympic Column: Soaking In the Olympic Experience
By Troy Schwindt, editor of SKATING magazine
It’s 4:25 a.m. in the Gangneung Media Village on Feb. 11 (which is Sunday morning here and Saturday night in the U.S.; I had to go online to make sure because I can’t keep the days straight) and I’m writing this first column from my tiny bedroom, which is on the 22nd floor of a brand new high-rise apartment complex. After the Games, these apartments have already been purchased by locals, who will move in later this year. I’m sharing this three-bedroom apartment with Sora Hwang, who runs our social media efforts for U.S. Figure Skating, and a reporter.
It’s been an awesome experience so far for someone who had never been out of the United States, who is from a small town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado (Fort Morgan) and who currently lives in another small town (Canon City). Jumping on a massive plane and flying 12 1/2 hours here was something I was nervous about because I had never been on a plane for more than four hours on any domestic flight. But I watched three or four movies – I would recommend Battle of the Sexes (the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs story) and Brad’s Status with Ben Stiller – and walked around a bunch to stay loose. Asiana Airlines is amazing; their flight attendants work their tails off to make the flight as comfortable as possible.
I flew into Incheon Airport in Seoul, where I was greeted right off the plane by an Olympic volunteer, who steered me in the right direction to validate my media credential and get me to baggage claim. Once I picked up my bags, I headed to the “bullet train,” which transported us 250 miles to a bus station in Gangneung in about two hours.
Before getting on the train, I met up with Barry Wilner, who is a legend at the Associated Press. Barry has covered every Super Bowl since 1987 and has reported on figure skating for decades. He’s really a super guy and fun to talk to. He was flying with their hockey reporter. Barry and I wanted to get something to eat and we found a vending machine on the train. For the first time, I got to use the Korean currency – “won” – to purchase a couple of bottles of water. 1,000 won is $1.
In the days to follow, using the Korean money wasn’t a big deal, but apparently, I wasn’t pronouncing “won” correctly. I was pretty proud of myself when saying the word, “won” but Sora – who can speak Korean, said, “I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s – then she said it correctly and I tried to unsuccessfully repeat it. So far, there’s not one Korean word I can say correctly, although Sora said I am close when it comes to pronouncing, “PyeongChang.”
After a short bus ride, we arrived at the media village where I picked up my key and headed up to my room around 11 p.m. After a decent night’s sleep, we headed over the next morning on a bus to the Gangneung Ice Arena, where we watched Nathan Chen, and the pairs team of Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, compete in the Team Event.
Things didn’t go Nathan’s way – he finished fourth with a score of 80.61 points for his program. He has routinely this season put up 100-plus points for a short program. Nathan, though, did execute the first quadruple flip ever in Olympic competition. He later doubled a quad toe and received no credit, and fell on a triple Axel attempt. Still, despite his disappointment, Nathan offered no excuses and said he would analyze what happened and move on. That’s what I love about this 18-year-old champion. Although he said he was sorry he let the team down, he wasn’t going to let that one skate impact the rest of his Olympic opportunities in the individual event.
A little bit later in the day, Alexa and Chris laid down their best short program of the season. They landed their side by side triple Salchows, a huge throw triple flip and opening triple twist. Finishing fourth was a major accomplishment for them and helped Team USA finish second in the Team Event after the first day. Alexa and Chris have been through so much off the ice with illness, injury and personal loss, that this moment was truly special for them and everyone who loves figure skating. It was so cool watching these two be so happy while being interviewed by the press.
After the pairs event, Sora, Mimi McKinnis – Mimi helps head up our marketing and communications team – and I walked over to the McDonalds, where there was a long line. Instead of waiting around, we stopped by one of the many (Western food) concession tents on the complex, which includes a hockey arena and a speedskating arena. Unfortunately, they had run out of hot dogs, sandwiches and everything else that I like, so I ended up with spaghetti. For anyone who knows me – I’m currently writing this column while drinking a Coke and eating chips – I love my fast food. That’s been my only issue so far: the food choices and availability, although we do get a great breakfast every day in the media village. The only negative is they give you a tiny Dixie cup for your drinks, so you are constantly refilling it.
Later that night, Sora and I took the bus up to PyeongChang and attended the Opening Ceremony. It was an amazing show, but I can’t tell you how cold it was. The wind was howling and it cut right through you. After watching about 250 members of Team USA walk around the 35,000-seat stadium, we began to make our way out of the stadium to escape the cold. Athletes from both Koreas entered the arena under a flag depicting a unified Korea as American Vice President Mike Pence and Kim Jong-Un’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, watched on from a VIP box.
The next morning, I worked on the next SKATING magazine from our apartment before heading over to the practice rink at Gangneung Ice Arena. The practice rink is located in the same building, under the main rink, which is really convenient for everyone. Adam Rippon gave us a smile as he glided by before his practice started. Adam looks great and you can tell that he’s savoring this opportunity.
From there, we walked over to the “Super Store,” where anything with the PyeongChang name, logo and mascots can be purchased. The mascots are adorable. Soohorang is a white tiger and Bandabi is an Asiatic black bear. I bought a few gifts for family and friends. Sora loves Soohorang!
That night, Sora and I attended the Japan vs. Sweden women’s hockey game. It was a thrilling preliminary pool-round game, with Sweden holding on to win 2-1. The brand of hockey was very good and there was a lot of excitement in the arena.
This morning, the Team Event continues with the short dance, ladies short and pairs free skate. Maia and Alex Shibutani took the ice first and held onto Team USA’s second-place. Bradie Tennell and Alexa and Chris will compete later today for the United States. Should be more fun! I’ll keep you posted!