Friday, February 9, 2018

Real-Time Notes from the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Opening Ceremony

As evening arrived over South Korea on Friday, Feb. 9, I filed into PyeongChang Olympic Stadium with a small army of fellow reporters and an actual army of South Korean police.

Typing what follows, I am seated beside a new friend from the media bus (a reporter from Moscow) and looking out at about 50,000 seats soon to be filled by spectators. The sponsor VIP seating is directly to my right, as is the media tribune video screen for live updates.

Though the following is not actually posted “live” (as my in-stadium Wi-Fi connection was/is spotty at best, and not at its best -- I pasted in this post back at the Main Press Center at 2 a.m. local time), what follows are my real-time updates as witness to the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXIIIrd Winter Olympiad.

Spoiler alert: At the end, they light a cauldron!

18:30 – Set up on row three aisle seat of press tribune. Upper level seats across the stadium are filling with spectators. For some reason five entire lower sections (one side of the pentagon-shaped stadium) remain completely empty.

18:45 – They’re playing a trio of Korean pop hits in rotation to warm up the audience. But wait, the temps are in the teens Fahrenheit and minus 20’s Celsius. “Here We Go!” lyrics will remain burned in my auditory memories for weeks.

18:50 – The trio of songs persists. One of them starts with a guitar solo reminiscent of Sia’s “Titanium” but it’s not Sia. And the other tune that starts like Justin Timberlake’s “Mirror” is not J.T. Must retreat again to indoor workroom for coffee and heat. Fingers already numb.

19:05 – I get it now. The entire side of the venue that is empty will be the athlete seating (duh).

19:10 – Speculating now as to which corner’s vomitory will expel the athlete parade.

19:20 – A pair of Korean comedians are on deck (center of stadium) to share spectator instructions. Bang the drums slowly … and loud! Turn on your mini-torch flash light with this button. 

19:25 – Joint North/South Korean Tae Kwo Do demonstration in progress with about 20 athletes kicking and screaming, perhaps to keep warm. Did I mention it’s fucking cold here? Fortunately there’s fresh and hot coffee and powdered donuts to keep the media happy. It helps they also gave us a complete Ceremonies Kit including blankets, seat warmers and an Olympic-branded full-body condom to keep out the cold.

19:45 – Went inside for a bathroom break. Commented to guys next to me, “Sorry, it’s so cold it may take me a minute to locate by testicles!” We laughed, then a reporter from Ireland chimed in, "Me, too!"

19:50 – Interesting: USA Today’s veteran Olympic reporter Christine Brennan just accepted my invitation to sit next to me in the press tribune.

20:00 – Countdown clock in Korean script. Let’s get this party started! Brennan went for warmth and did not return. 

20:01 – Enormous bell at center of the stadium sets off freezing stage -- like the Disney film "Frozen" animated frost -- then fireworks. Brilliant!

20:05 – Enormous paper tiger (maneuvered by six puppeteers) bounds into the center of the stadium followed by other wintry wildlife including fish, horses, dragons, a phoenix and elk. This segment is titled "The Land of Peace" according to embargoed Media Guide.

20:10 – Enter the president of South Korea, IOC President Thomas Bach and other dignitaries. The sister of North Korea’s leader just got a smiling handshake. Bet they're talking about that on CNN right about now. 

20:12 –The center of the arena just bottomed out and drummers soon will ascend. Unison in creation of the yin and yang symbol as seen at the center of the nation’s flag.

20:17 – Time to raise the South Korean flag for real. Some of the nation’s Olympic  heroes are carrying in the banner in elegant white uniforms.

20:25 – Parade of nations led by Greece, then Ghana’s skeleton athlete with whom I traded pins in the Olympic Village yesterday. OK, going inside to get warm before Team USA arrives.

20:35 – Nice sombrero, Team Mexico flag bearer! Followed by Montenegro athletes introduced with “Gangnam Style” blaring.

20:45 – Team USA in da house!

20:55 – Olympic Athletes of Russia (O.A.R.) now enter behind the Olympic flag. Loudest cheers since Team USA.

20:58 – Japan’s dayglow winter coats are a hit, as is the Jamaican bobsled team dance around the arena. Team China also got a loud cheer upon entry. Going in for a close up of the South Korean volunteers (dressed like ice princesses) who are carrying the polished aluminum signs of competing nations.

21:15 – Shiver me timbers, the Unified Korean Team is in the stands, at long last!

21:16 – With our in-stands TV monitors showing the Olympic Channel footage, I gather some of the virtual reality theatrics appear to viewers at home but not for us in the stands, which is OK. The augmented dome of constellations is spectacular. 

21:25 – "River of Time" and "All for the Future" segments bring forth a time portal of sorts and a hand-drawn smiling emoji. Happy!

21:30 – POCOG President Lee Hee-beon and IOC President Thomas Bach chat up the great work of the volunteers and athletes. Bravo!

21:43 – President of South Korea officially opens the Games.

21:45 – "Imagine" all the times John and Yoko Ono got this song into the Olympics (by my count this is the third time in Winter Games, with Torino 2006 as the first). Not likely to be the last time, either. 

21:50 – VR lighting in the skies over venues  -- drone effects via Intel? I need to check the Intel press kit tomorrow!

21:52 – Olympic flag carried aloft by Korean Olympic heroes, and the sudden appearance of a massive artsy drum kit (I think).

21:55 – Packing up laptop as I can no longer feel my fingers. And I want to focus on enjoying the last 15 minutes of the show. Signing off from the stadium.

02:11 on 10 February – I am in the Main Press Center to add photos to the above post. The fireworks and cauldron lighting really made a lasting impression. This Olympiad already rocks! And congrats to Kim Yuna as the final 2018 Olympic torchbearer. 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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