PyeongChang Weater Feb 1

It’s a week away. I’m so excited. I’m getting chills.

I will be in South Korea for the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with the world’s best winter sports athletes, world leaders, celebrities, the North Korean cheering squad and 35,000 other participants….freezing our butts off.

I routinely look at the weather app on my iPhone for the temperature in the area of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, and it’s always minus-something celsius. In fact, over the past ten years, the average temperature of this northern part of South Korea is -5.8 Celsius.

And because the Olympic Stadium was built without a roof – to save costs – there are fears that the cutting winds of that area will give the “lucky” spectators a chance to sit for 4-5 hours in a wind chill of -12 degrees. This may not be healthy. According to this article, six people were treated for hypothermia at a concert they attended in the Olympic Stadium in November, 2017.

In order to prevent the mountain winds from sweeping through the stadium, organizers have built a wall 3.5 meters high, that circles around the stadium for 350 meters, which they hope will keep the wind chill down. They will also hand out blankets and heat packs to each of the participants. You can bet I will have those little instant heat packs all over my very layered body.

Here is one of a great set of FAQs on the PyeongChang Olympics from the Associated Press:

Q:  What’s the weather like?

A:  Bundle up. Gangwon Province is one of the country’s coldest places. The wind is brutal, and the stadium for the nighttime opening and closing ceremonies is open air and has no heating system. Locals make it a matter of pride not to complain about daily wintertime life, but visitors risk misery if they’re unprepared.

Fortunately, misery loves company…and maybe 35,000 people together can bring the heat!

Shaun White might be back to the Olympics. But Ayumu Hirano has arrived.

The 19-year-old from Niigata, Japan, Hirano slam-dunked his ninth and final round to win gold in the superpipe event at the Winter X Games in Aspen Colorado, on January 28, 2018.

Hirano had taken the lead on another favorite, Australian Scotty James in his third round run where he scored a very high 96.66. He held the lead until his ninth and final run, where it was Hirano’s to win or lose. And based on the reaction of the two ESPN announces, Hirano won emphatically, with an amazing string of 1440’s, which I presume means four 360s, also known as 14s.

Brandon: Have you ever seen a run like that in a pipe final Craig McMorris?

Craig: No because it’s never been done anywhere on earth. How are you going to out-do yourself, Ayumu Hirano! Look at this! Jump man. Jump man. Jump man. I’m speechless.

Brandon: I need you to say something, Craig.

Craig: Ayumu Hirano. Front 14 double. Cap 14 double. Front 12 double. Back 12 double. And a backside air right off the top that’ll just drop your jaw. What planet are you from? Not earth, Brandon. Not earth.

Brandon: That’s the first time we’ve ever seen back to back 14s ever. Period. Exclamation point.

Hirano won the silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, falling to Iouri (iPod) Podladtchikov of Switzerland. But with his triumph at the X Games, expectations for Hirano gold In PyeongChang are now sky high.

Ayumu Hirano
Ayumu Hirano
Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim

Someone in Seoul recently wrote to me that many South Koreans are not so excited in the Winter Games to be held in their home country because there are no Korean superstars like Yuna Kim at these Games. I’m sure that will change if it hasn’t already.

Having said that, one of the biggest young talents coming to PyeongChang is a first-generation Korean. She will, however, be competing for the US. Her name is Chloe Kim. She is one of the best snowboarders in the world, becoming the youngest gold medalist at the Winter X Games at the age of 14. A year later she became the first person under 16 to win three gold medals, as well as the first woman to complete back-to-back 1080 spins in a competition, the only person other than the legendary snowboarder and teammate, Shaun White, to do so.Kim began snowboarding at 4

Born in California to Korean-born parents, Kim began snowboarding at 4. According to this SI article, she moved to Switzerland, where her parents met, for a couple of years of elementary school, where she added French and learned how to ply the halfpipe.

A Korean who won’t be returning is Viktor Ahn. With 3 gold medals and a bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2006 Torino Olympiads, Ahn (formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo) is one of the most decorated Olympians in South Korean history.

Unfortunately, following the 2006 Torino Games, the relationship between Ahn and his coach of the very successful Korean short track men’s team became tenable at best. Eventually, Ahn was put in a different group coached by the women’s track team, and the relationship became, apparently, unrepairable.

In 2008, Ahn fractured his knee while training, taking him out of action, and making it impossible for him to defend his world championship titles in 2008 and 2009. So when trials began for the 2010 Sochi Olympics, Ahn was not able to qualify due to the lack of points from not participating in the prior World Cups, so Ahn, somewhat surprisingly, was left off the South Korean squad heading to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

President Vladimir Putin Honours Russian Olympic Athletes
Putin and Ahn

In a tremendous shock to Korea, Ahn became a Russian citizen, and joined the Russian national team in time for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he had a successful comeback – three more gold medals and a bronze.

It goes without saying, with the Russia team under the dark cloud of state-sponsored cheating in addition to his “defection” to Russia, Koreans may have been looking forward to welcoming or heckling their for me star back to Korea. Unfortunately, that dramatic storyline never emerged.

While the IOC has approved over 160 Russians to compete at the Pyeong Chang Olympics, that list did not include Ahn, the taint of Russian medal winners who trained during the height of the state-sponsored doping machine prior and during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ahn is despondent, as he explained to RT:

This is really a very difficult situation. The IOC hasn’t specified any reasons for my exclusion from the Olympics. I don’t understand why they have made such a decision. I really can’t say anything right now. I’m still waiting, but if the situation is not resolved we will take action. During my entire career journey in short track, I’ve never given a reason to doubt my honesty and my integrity, especially when it comes to my victories which I achieved with nothing but my strength and dedication.

Pita Taufatofua on skis

You may not remember the name, but you surely remember the body.

When Pita Taufatofua walked into the stadium at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics, carrying the Tongan flag at the head of his delegation. And in the doing, he, as they say, blew up the internet.

The taekwando competitor was dressed in native Tongan costume, from the waist down. From the waist up, Taufatofua was shirtless, his muscular upper body slick and shiny with oil. Men stared and women swooned the world over. Jenna Bush, the daughter of President George W. Bush, was one of three NBC anchorwomen filmed rubbing oil over the arms and chest of the Australian born native of Brisbane.

As a fighter, Taufatofua lost his first match in the heavyweight competition at Rio, and that was it.

But once bit by the Olympic bug, it’s hard for some people to walk away. So Taufatofua did the unthinkable, and found a way into the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And while there will be a taekwondo demonstration team from North Korea, this Tongan will be competing in cross-country skiing. That’s amazing since he didn’t start skiing until 2017.

As you can guess, Taufatofua has not been around snow all that much, but he caught a break when the International Ski Federation changed their eligibility rules allowing skiiers to employ points gained in roller skiing competitions (more commonly organized in warm-weather countries).

As explained in this article, Taufatofua had to work hard to learn a new discipline and spend a lot of money to boot. He formed a ragtag team of experts who coached him in his new discipline, moved to Austria to get his training on snow, and worked to make the minimum time to make the Olympics on the Tongan national team.

“I’m the brokest I’ve been in my life,” he said. But he’s back in the Games.

Can’t Miss Prediction: He won’t go shirtless in the PyeongChang Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Pita Taufatofua on skis 2

 

Hyon Song Wol
Hyon Song Wol of the North Korean delegation

K-Pop’s really popular all over Asia. But how about NK-Pop?

Thanks to a recent rapprochement by the two Koreas, North and South Korea will unite under the name “Korea” at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. In addition to a figure skating duo which had actually qualified for the Games, an additional 22 athletes will be added to the roster of participating athletes.

A stunning turn of events only weeks before the commencement of the Games, the governments of North and South Korea are working to de-escalate the tension that has risen in the second half of 2017, as test missiles from North Korea flew menacingly close to Japan, and antagonistic words between the American and North Korean leaders were exchanged.

South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, has been actively seeking to bring North Korea to the table, and to the PyeongChang Olympics. On January 18, 2018, weeks before the Winter Games start on February 8, the two sides negotiated the presence of not only athletes and officials in PyeongChang, but also a wide variety of teams that would serve to promote North Korean arts, sports and of course, the government leadership. That includes a team of taekwondo athletes, which of course won’t compete because it’s not the Summer Games, but instead will perform in demonstrations.

Participants at the PyeongChang Winter Games will be graced by the presence of the so-called “Army of Beauties,” a hand-picked cheering squad of 230 women who will chant, sing and cheer at the Games opening ceremonies, among other events.

The Samjiyon Art Troupe, an all-purpose group of 140 singers, dancers and orchestral members will also perform during the Olympics. This particular group is led by Hyon Song Wol, who is the leader of the Moranbong Band, an all-female band that is more well known, and has been performing pop rock since 2012. It is reported that North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, helped establish the band.

Hyon is no ordinary musician. She was a member of North Korea’s delegation visiting South Korea for the rapprochement talks, and is perceived to be close to Kim Jong-un. There have even been rumors that she was romantically involved with Kim before he became North Korea’s supreme leader.

Rumors don’t stop there regarding Hyon. It was believed in 2014 that Hyon was dead, executed by the hand of the State, for the charge of – wait for it – starring in a pornographic films. The rumors of her demise were apparently greatly exaggerated. Today, Hyon appears to wield significant political influence. And at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Hyon and the Samjiyon Art Troupe will take the spotlight on the biggest stage in sports.

Most of us think about the luge and skeleton competitions once every four years during the Winter Olympics, if at all. Regardless, watching these competitions will get the tension up for anyone. Sliding down an icy curvy course at speeds of over 130 kph without breaks, with very little to protect you looks crazy dangerous….thus the thrill.

Just in case you’re interested, there are a few significant differences between two sliding events that seem similar to the untrained eye: the luge and the skeleton. The most obvious difference is that luge competitors race down the sliding course feet first, face looking to the sky, while skeleton competitors zip down the course head first. Here are a few more:

skeleton sled vs luge sled
skeleton sled top, luge sled below

Runners: Luges have razor-sharp blades for runners while skeleton sleds have metal tubes for runners.

Starting Point: Luges for individual competitors (as well as bobsleigh) start higher up the course than skeleton (although women at a lower point than men)

Starting Method: Luge competitors start from a sitting position, pushing off from the starting point with their hands, while skeleton competitors sprint at the start like bobsleigh teams, running for about 40 meters, admittedly somewhat awkwardly as the sled is very low to the ground.

Steering: Lugers on their backs with their feet at the front and so the way the luge is designed is for the luger to steer with their legs, pushing down on the left “kufen,” the hook-shaped part of the runner, for example. The challenge is steering without being able to see. Skeleton competitors can see very clearly, and since they are nestled in a “saddle” attached to the skeleton sled, they can steer more easily than lugers with subtle shifts in body weight can alter the direction of the sled.

Speed: All factors being considered, lugers are able to hit faster speeds than skeleton competitors. Lugers start higher up the course, and their feet-first approach is more aerodynamic than the head-first approach of skeleton sliders. Clearly, a round helmet creates greater air resistance than two feet pointed straight ahead. According to the science guy, Bill Nye, “so serious are luge sliders about drag, the soles of their shoes have no tread, and the heels are permanently set to keep them walking on tiptoes to the starting gate.” As a result lugers can hit speeds of 145 to 150 kph, while skeleton sliders max out at around 130 kph.

Sochi Olympics Ski Jumping Men
Noriaki Kasai celebrates winning the silver medal Saturday after the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. | AP

Noriaki Kasai has qualified for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics as a member of Japan’s ski jump team. And in one respect, no one has ever flown higher. Kasai will participate in his eighth Winter Olympic Games. No one has ever done that.

There are actually 11 other Olympians who have participated in 8 or more Olympics, but they all have been participants in Summer Olympic competitions like equestrian, sailing, canoeing, rowing and shooting events. Tied with him at 7 Winter Olympiads was Albert Demtschenko from Russia, who could have joined Kasai as an 8th straight winter Olympian, but was banned for life from the Olympics in December, 2017 for doping.

That’s what happens when you put skill and longevity together. “Legend,” as Kasai is called in Japan, has not only won 2 silver medals and a bronze medal in the Olympics, he has two Guinness World Records for appearances in international ski jump events.

Most interestingly, he has been immortalized in a song called “Mr. Noriaki Kasai,” by the Finnish punk rock band, the Van Dammes.

That is indeed the stuff of legends.

Shaun White ion Snowmass
Shaun White reacts to his perfect score

It’s disturbing to watch.

“I was going up and I remember seeing the wall come around…and I just kind of blanked.”

Of course he blanked. Shaun White‘s head, which was moving with considerable speed due to a complex high-speed aerial spin during a practice half-pipe showboarding session in October, smacked right into the lip of the wall. When White came tumbling down the wall, blood gushing from his face.

“I have never really had that much blood coming out of me before,” said White.

The two-time gold-medalist in the snowboard halfpipe from San Diego, California was in New Zealand to train in preparation of entering a fourth straight winter Olympics in PyeongChang when this accident happened, requiring 62 stitches to his face. But it took only a couple of months before White was back on the snow competing for Olympic qualification.

The last qualification took place on Saturday, January 13, in Snowmass, Colorado, and the 31-year-old White pulled off a perfect score of 100 to again qualify for his fourth Olympics in a row.

The footage of the accident was from an 8-part documentary called SnowPack: Shaun White and the U.S. Snowboard Team, which focuses on White’s journey to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

If you’re following the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics on Twitter, you can’t avoid the tweets on calls to boycott the 2018 Winter Games in support of a ban on the eating of dog meat in Korea. Certainly, as 2018 just happens to be The Year of the Dog in the Asian zodiac timeframe, and the Winter Olympics are in South Korea this year, this is an opportune time to protest the consumption of dog meat.

Over the past two millenia, gaegogi, or dog meat, has been consumed in Korea, as well as China and Vietnam. Wikipedia cites an article that states 25 million dogs are eaten each year by humans. I have never tried dog meat, or cat meat for that matter, which is also consumed by humans to lesser degrees, primarily in Asia.

But I have had horse meat, a popular delicacy in Japan. It’s called basashi, served raw like sashimi, and it is delicious. But friends who had never in their life had the thought of eating horse would probably outwardly protest, or inwardly recoil upon hearing that horse was a highlight of Japanese cuisine.

basashi
Basashi, or raw horse meat, a popular dish in Japan.

There are quite a few commentaries on the internet on this topic – the idea that eating animals viewed first as pets and friends is abhorrent, while eating animals viewed first as food is not even a passing thought for most people (vegans and animal activists excluded).

Why is that? Jared Piazza, a lecturer in moral psychology from Lancaster University commented about the terrible ways dogs are slaughtered for human consumption, and the ambivalence it creates in many:

I too find myself heartbroken by these images. But as a vegan I find myself wondering why isn’t there more outrage in the world over the slaughter of other animals. For instance, each year in the US roughly 110m pigs are killed for meat. Where is the same public outcry over bacon?

The simple answer is emotional prejudice. We just don’t care enough about pigs for their needless suffering to pull at our heartstrings. As Melanie Joy, social psychologist and expert on “carnism” points out, we love dogs, yet we eat pigs, and there are simply no good moral reasons for such hypocrisy.

However this belief really just reflects the fact that people spend more time getting to know dogs than pigs. Many people have dogs as pets and through this relationship with dogs we’ve come to learn about them and care deeply for them. But are dogs really that different from other animals we eat?

Dr. Marc Bekoff wrote in Psychology Today explained that our feelings towards animals slaughtered so they can become pork chops or hamburger or chicken soup are muted since these animals are “out of sight, out of mind” for many of us.

In my essay concerning eating pigs I wrote, “When some people learn that I go to China to work with Animals Asia in their moon bear rescue program (link is external) (see also) they ask, ‘How can you go there, that’s where they eat dogs and cats?’ I simply say that I just left the United States where people routinely eat pigs, cows, chickens, and millions of other sentient beings.” Why is eating dogs different from eating cows and pigs at a barbecue or in a restaurant? For one, we don’t see the actual painful process of how pigs and cows become meals. 

In the end, is the debate about whether people eat dog or cat meat? Or is it about whether we care how we treat animals raised for human consumption? Do many of us prefer to keep such images out of sight, out of mind? (Yes, I struggle with the non-committal nature of this post’s conclusion.)

Lillehammer Norway
Lillehammer Norway

It’s 2018! So it’s Year of the Dog.

And according to the Chinese Zodiac, there are five different cycles of Dog Years. This year is the Earth Dog, which in theory, means that people born in 2018 (or 1958), are “communicative, serious, and responsible in work.”

With the coming 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, this is actually only the third time an Olympics will have been held in the Year of the Dog. Twelve years ago, the Olympics were held in Torino, Italy in 2007, and twenty-four years ago, the Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 (Year of the Wood Dog). That was the first time the Winter Games were held in a year different from the Summer Olympics.

year of the dogOne similarity between PyeongChang and Lillehammer – both are cities of tiny populations: 27,400 in Lillehammer and 43,600 in PyeongChang. The PyeongChang Olympic Organizing Committee can only hope that the similarities don’t stop there as the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics are considered one of the best ever. Costs were not astronomic. Security wasn’t paramount. And the Olympics were welcomed by the local folk.

As ESPN writer, Jim Caple, wrote in an article called “How Lillehammer Set the Standard,” Norway put on a great show. “The 1994 Games likely were the greatest Winter Olympics ever.”

American speed skater, Dan Jansen, agreed with that sentiment:

The whole experience, not just my experience, but the whole Winter Games themselves in that specific city, were as good as they can be. Just because the people were so proud to host the Games. Winter sports are a way of life there, and it really showed in the way they put the Games on and the attitudes of the people. I don’t want to say they were better than any other, but the way a lot of those stories unfolded, it was certainly hard to compare any Games after that, with all those stories in one Olympics. Every story [every Olympics] is important, but it all just seemed to come together.

And years later, citizens of Lillehammer appear to appreciate their connection to and the impact of the 1994 Olympics. As this post in the blog, Life in Norway, posits, Norwegians enjoy the fruits of the Olympic legacy.

These days, many visitors see Lillehammer as a quiet town. I sure did when I first visited in 2012, as the town centre was almost deserted on a Saturday morning. But it didn’t take long to realise it was because the locals spend their precious leisure time in the mountains, taking advantage of the facilities very few towns of its size are blessed with. Local children zoom around the Olympic arena on sledges and skis, perhaps dreaming of their own future Olympic glory.

May 2018, the Year of the Dog, be a wonderful year for the organizers, the fans and the athletes of the PyeongChang Olympics.