To spouses and sweethearts alike, a very happy Valentine’s Day from The Olympians!

Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova_2
Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova, from the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964 Kyodo News Service

Gymnast Nikolai Prodanov and javelin thrower Diana Yorgova of Bulgaria are the first Olympians to marry during the Olympics, tying the knot in the Olympic Village of the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Hal and Olga Connolly kiss_Mainichi Graf_11.3.1964
Hal and Olga Connolly, from the November 3, 1964 edition of magazine, Mainichi Graf

Americans Hal (hammer) and Olga (discus) Connolly sneak a kiss through a fence that prevented men from gaining access to the women’s rooms in Tokyo. They famously met at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when she was Olga Fikotova of Czechoslovakia, and they both took home gold.

Ken Matthews_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
Ken Matthews and his wife Sheila moments before their famous hug, from the book, Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha

Brit Ken Matthews, gold medalist of the 20K walk at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, gets a celebrated hug from his wife Sheila after his victory.

Mike Larrabee and wife kiss_Mainich Graf_11.3.1964
Mike Larrabee kisses his wife Margaret, from November 3, 1964 edition of Mainich Graf

Double gold medalist (400m, 4x400m relay), Mike Larrabee, gets a lengthy kiss from his wife, Margaret. Larrabee of Team USA as you can see in the picture also placed the gold medal he had just won from his 400-meter finals around her neck.

Brigthwell and Packer_Tokyo Olympiad 1964 Kyodo News Service
Robbie Brigthwell and Ann Packer from the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964 Kyodo News Service

 

Arguably the biggest power couple of the 1964 Olympiad were Team GB track stars Robbie Brightwell (silver medalist in 4×400 relay) and Ann Packer, seen here hugging after Packer’s gold medal win in the 800 meter finals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad.

 

Shaun White wins 2018 Olyjmpic halfpipe_NYT
Shaun White celebrates after winning gold in the men’s halfpipe. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

 

The announcers were hyped as 16-year-old Yuto Totsuka took off on his run, looking to see extreme amplitude from Totsuka: “We won’t even see him on the radar!”

And then on Totsuka’s first upswing of his third and final run of the men’s halfpipe competition, he flew about 5 meters into the air, came crashing down board first on the pipe’s edge, slid down the pipe and came to a stop in the middle, a hush coming upon the crowd.

Totsuka was sitting upright, but eventually, they carted him off on a stretcher. Would this affect the other skateboarders? How about American Shaun White, who only four months ago had a similar accident in New Zealand, his face slamming into the top of the halfpipe lip, leaving him a bloody mess.

The torch was on the verge of being passed to Ayumu Hirano, the 19-year-old phenom from Niigata, Japan, who replicated the maneuvers in the second run that got him gold at the Winter X-Games only two weeks ago, his score of 95.25 was good enough for gold.

Ayumu Hirano_finals_JT
Ayumu Hirano competes in the men’s halfpipe final at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Wednesday. | AP

White’s first ride got him 94.25, which had him in second place ahead of 23-year-old Scotty James of Australia and behind Hirano. But White, who missed the podium finishing fourth at Sochi, didn’t want silver. He desperately wanted to add a third Olympic gold to his long snowboarding career as he set up for his final ride.

Hirano had nailed two consecutive 1440s in his second ride, the first to do so in the Olympics, which got him his 95.25. White had never had a successful ride of two fourteens, so the question was, could he do it in his third and final ride.

And he did.

The 31-year-old pulled a magic ride out of his black astronaut helmet, and recorded a score of 97.75. White raised his arms ripped off his goggles off, and let loose a primal scream that was heard all the way back to his hometown in San Diego.

The torch was still in the hands of the ancient 31-year-old snowboarder – Shaun White.

Shaun White wins 2018 Olyjmpic halfpipe_NYT 2
Shaun White competing in the men’s halfpipe, where he won gold. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Chloe Kim_second run score

It was one of the most anticipated Olympic debuts. And Chloe Kim did not disappoint.

On an awesomely sunny day at Phoenix Snow Park, the massive halfpipe reflected a blinding white as we got ready for the Ladies Halfpipe qualifier. Twenty-four competitors were gunning to make the top twelve and the finals the next day, but there was no doubt about Kim qualifying.

Chloe Kim in her first run
Chloe Kim in her first ride.

Kim was third to ride in the first round, and off the bat established a score of 91.50. Liu Jiayu of China, who started off her halfpipe rides with significant altitude, came relatively close with an 87.75, but nobody else really challenged. With nobody else in the 90s, Kim decided to up the ante, and scored a 95.50 in her second run.

The child of Korean parents, Kim is popular both in the US (the second coming of Shaun White), and in South Korea. So the pressure of her first Olympic ride may weighed somewhat on her shoulders. But after her successful first ride, she sent out a tweet.

“Could be down for some ice cream rn”

The kid from California had to be kidding because it was freezing cold. But one thing you could say – she was relaxed.

Who’s going to beat her?

The only person who could do that is Chloe Kim.

Chloe Kim_second run
Chloe Kim in her second ride.

NOTE: As it turned out, Kim’s third ride in the finals topped her first-place score, so Chloe Kim indeed bested herself, and claimed the much-anticipated gold medal in the Ladies Halfpipe.

Jamie Anderson_Slope Style_first run 2

Someone once said, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

The Ladies Slope Style qualification round, that would have whittled the field of 25 to 12, was cancelled on Sunday, February 11 due to the strong winds at Phoenix Snow Park. Instead organizers went straight to a two-round finals with all 25 competitors on Monday, February 12, to start from 10 am. But even that was delayed for an hour with the hopes that the strong winds, that can throw off the balance of snowboarders, particularly if they’re in the air executing a complex set of twists.

Jamie Anderson_Slope Style_first run 1
Jamie Anderson in her first run of the Ladies Slope Style finals.

At the end of the first round, only five of the 25 snowboarders were able to complete their runs. But it was in the first round when American Jamie Anderson got the best score of the day of 83.00, a score that was good enough for gold. Laurie Blouin of Canada and Enni Rukajarvi of Finland took silver and bronze.

While the spectators in the stands were cold, we didn’t get hit as much by the gusts of winds that were pummeling the slopes. We could see the wind cone in full extension most of the time, and the snow spraying off the slopes when the winds hit.

One of the favorites, Anna Gasser of Austria said, ”it should have been postponed. We tried to speak to officials but the Olympics put us under pressure to do it today.”

Another favorite, Aimee Fuller of Great Britain, echoed Gasser’s sentiments.

I don’t feel like I had a fair shot at putting down my best run, the wind just took me sideways on the last hit. Some girls were lucky. I think today was a matter of luck and the strong riders definitely showed. But at the end of the day not even the top riders have necessarily landed the best runs.

Aimee Fuller_Slope Style_1st run
Aimee Fuller in her first run of the Ladies Slope Style finals

I watched only the first round of the Ladies Slope Style, when Anderson had her gold-medal-winning run. But the fact of the matter is, of the top ten finishers half of them had their best run in the first run, while half had their best in the second, according to the official results report. No one really had two great runs.

Hailey Langland of America came in sixth and said that wind is part of the competition. “We are snowboarders and should be able to deal with it. The girls on the podium showed that and that is why they are up there.”

Enni Rukajarvi_Slope Style_first run_fail
Enni Rukajarvi in her first run which did not end well. She recovered in her second round capturing bronze.

According to a statement put by the International Ski Federation (FIS), they anticipated this situation and said that their decision to go ahead with the event on Monday morning was based on a “contingency plan put in place during the team captains meeting on Saturday, as agreed upon by the jury and the team representatives.” They also stated that “although the conditions made the competition challenging, ‘the nature of outdoor sports also requires adapting to the elements.’”

Time to give up on governing mother nature.

Biathlon 20

There were flags of many different nations: Norway, Japan, Russia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and many others. And despite the fact that the biggest flag I saw at the Biathlon Men’s 10k Sprint during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics was an American flag, Team USA has never medaled in a biathlon event. In fact, it is the only winter sport Americans have been shut out of.

This is a sport of the Europeans, with its roots deep in the ice and snow of Norway, where Norwegian soldiers since the 18th century would stay in shape by competing in a combined cross-country skiing and rifle shooting contest. While the biathlon appeared at the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix France in 1924, it didn’t become an official event for men until 1960, and then for women until 1992.

 

Alpensia biathlon venue
Alpensia Biathlon Centre Course

 

There are several Olympic types of biathlon events: the individual, the sprint, the pursuit, the mass start and the relay. At the Alpensia Biathlon Center on Sunday, February 11, I saw the Men’s 10k sprint event. At -11 degrees Centigrade, it was bitingly cold. But the enthusiasm and constant noise of the spectators kept the biathlon arena warm and engaging.

Still, I had no idea what was going on. Everyone around me was following their countrymen in the event. I could not for the life of me tell what was happening, other than the skiing in front of me and the shooting I could see on the screen. It must be like a person who has never seen an American football game from a stadium seat trying to understand what is happening on the field in front of them.

But at least a football novice could see the field and the direction the offense was going in. Only after I got back home could I see the extensive track behind the arena where the competitors huffed and puffed their way over the hills and through the woods. Halfway through their trek, they stopped at the arena for two rounds of shooting, one standing and one prone (even to the ground). The shooting was viewable on the big screen and is a significant part of this competition, and yet I couldn’t tell exactly where the shooting was taking place.

 

Biathlon 21
Vancouver gold medalist Tarjei Boe of Norway missing five times, adding another 750 meters to his race.

 

Clearly, when you’ve been pushing hard aerobically on the skis, settling yourself down for a good shot is a challenge. I imagine that calming your heartrate and mind down enough to shoot accurately is part of the challenge of this competition. And if you miss, it’s not good. With every shot you are off target in the sprint, you have to ski a penalty loop of 150 meters, which of course, adds to your time. Miss two or three shots, and your time continues to inflate.

As Finnish veteran biathlete and competitor in PyeongChang, Kaisa Makarainen, noted in this interview:

Even though you can have favourites, you never know what the result will be. You never know how the athletes will cope with the shooting, and then some of the best shooters are not so good on the skis, so it’s really dramatic.

So the skill and the variation in results comes from that moment between decision to fire and firing. And while you can have favorites in the biathlon sprint, (in this event, Martin Fourcade of France and Norwegian Johannes Thingnes Boe,) you can never really be sure who will win. The Germans in front of me were not the flag waving sort, one of them appearing a bit irritated with the large Russian flag that a fan a row ahead of him was waving.

But in the end, it was a German, Arndt Peiffer, who won the gold, Michal Krcmar of the Czech Republic who won the silver, and Dominik Windisch of Italy who took the bronze. The shooting proved decisive, as Peiffer and Krcmar were the only biathletes to hit all ten targets, and thus raced only 10 kilometers.

Biathlon 4
Pre-show entertainment at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre. It’s -11 degrees centigrade and they’re dancing in mini-skirts.

 

Opening Ceremony Swag 1The evening of Saturday, February 10 was freezing cold. The bone chilling cold and skin-shearing winds the organizers were anticipating for the opening ceremonies on Friday, February 9. The cold did not chill, nor the winds destroy during the opening ceremonies. In fact, with enough layers and a little help from the organizers, spectators were able to watch without a thought to the cold.

Thanks to the swag.

On each seat, there was a vinyl bag packed with things to keep us warm and to help us cheer.

Opening Ceremony Swag 2

As you can see in the above photo, we had a blanket, a hat, and most importantly, a seat cushion and a heat pad that could be slipped into the cushion. Other heat pads, packs of squishy chemicals that warm up and stay warm as you hold and squeeze them.

I had unfortunately lost my hat that afternoon only to find a hat in the bag, which I immediately put on. Together with my boots, a thermal undershirt and underpants, a shirt, a vest, a ski coat, a neck/face warmer, I was sitting pretty on my heated cushion. I didn’t need the blanket, and thankfully, there was no precipitation to require the rain poncho.

Opening Ceremony Swag 3

One of the gifts was to be used during key moments in the program, when the lights would go down and everyone could turn on their mini-torch, a replica of the PyeongChang Olympic torch. During one of the most powerful moments in the program, when performers launched into a moving rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, spectators waved their torches, imagining that one day, the world will be as one.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter KTX

I’m sitting in seat 5A of the third train in the KTX and after kilometer of kilometer of open spaces, ice-pocked rivers, massive housing blocks, we’ve entered darkness. And it’s a long darkness.

But that’s OK, because I have my handy dandy PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter in the pocket in front of my seat, and it has the facts I need. The KTX is the new high-speed train line from Seoul to Gangneung, which will make it fairly easy for Koreans and visitors alike to get to the Olympic venues. And in answer to the question “Would you introduce the newly launched KTX railroad line connecting Seoul with Gangneung?” there is a nugget of trivia that I needed at the moment I read it – that part of the engineering marvel of the new KTX line is a 22-kilometer-long tunnel in Daegwallyeong. That’s the longest tunnel in Korea, and the eighth longest in the world.

This newsletter is intriguing, at least to me. There is a bit of the normal evasive mumbo jumbo that bureaucracies spin. For example, in answer to the first question – “What do the Korean people think about Korea’s hosting of the Olympics, the world’s premier sporting event?” the answer starts off with a 90 degree turn.

KTX

Let us begin with a brief introduction to the Republic of Korea. The country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996, and its economy now ranks near the global top 10. Surprisingly, however Korea was the most impoverished country in the world 70 years ago. It gained independence in 1945 but went into war in 1950……

It goes on like that for another three paragraphs without answering the question. Maybe the attitude of the Koreans towards the Olympics are like citizens in so many countries – mixed to negative.

But I suppose that answer would be a downer at the start of a newsletter promoting the pride Koreans have in showcasing the biggest Winter sports event in the world.

This four-page document is not all sugar and spice, however. In companies I’ve worked, in the face of intimidating change, corporate communications will often suggest creating a set of FAQs called “Rude FAQs.” In this case, the effort is put into thinking of the most direct questions an ordinary employee would think of (the directness of which can seem rude in the genteel world of let’s-all-get-along corporate cultures.)

So after the first nine, rather bland questions in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics newsletter come three fairly direct questions, real questions:

  • Q9. South Korea’s “Peace Olympics Initiative” led to North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. Is there any concern about the possibility of the North’s exploiting the Games as a propaganda opportunity?
  • Q10. Isn’t the North trying to gain time for its nuclear armament by participating in the Games, and doesn’t its participation constitute a violation of the sanctions imposed by the international community on North Korea?
  • Q11. Aren’t some South Korean media outlets and politicians worried about North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics?

And the answers were on the whole pretty solid. Here’s the response to the last question, #11:

Considering the fact that North Korea’s latest missile test was held just months ago, their sudden change in attitude is surprising, and indeed, voices of concern have been heard in some quarters.

The government is paying keen attention to these concerns out of the belief that they all emanate from a wish for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. The government is convinced that the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics will contribute to the success of the Games for the following reasons:

  • First, the PyeongChang Olympics will aid the promotion of inter-Korean reconciliation as well as ease tensions and build peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Second, there were concerns a few months ago over whether the PyeongChang Olympics could be peacefully held, but those concerns have now evaporated. Moreover, global leaders are supporting inter-Korean dialogue and the participation of North Kore in the PyeongChang Olympics.
  • Third, the North’s participation has further increased international interest I the PyeongChang Olympics, adding to its potential for success.
  • Fourth, efforts for detente on the Koran Peninsula will mitigate geopolitical risks, providing a boost to the Korean economy.