Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Rest of the Story

On March 26, my longtime Olympic friend Brian cornered me (a second time) nudging for a conclusion to the mid-Games cliffhanger posted from PyeongChang in February.

"Time flies when you're having fun," I shrugged.

In our memberships with the International Society of Olympic Historians, Brian and I occasionally summon our inner Paul Harvey, the on air storyteller who, for years, wove detailed color into his radio broadcasts. 

At Brian's request, finally now on April 27 (started April 12), here is the rest of the story:

On the day of my mid-February PyeongChang post, I had a second news story in the works to follow-up the pin trading tales of the Games' first week. 

In that one afternoon at the Main Press Center, it was fun to meet not only the Team USA women's figure skaters at their first press conference of the Games, but also a British reporter I nicknamed "Stephen Merchant's doppelganger" seated near my blogging station. 

The incomplete post -- including answers to my questions posed to Mirai Nagasu, Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell -- was drafted under the headline "Hello, Ladies" in reference and reverence to Merchant's short-lived HBO series, of which I was a big fan (as big a supporter of ladies' Olympic figure skating). 

But here's the deal: I caught a nasty head cold during the middle weekend of PyeongChang, and by the afternoon in question the congestion and coughing was rough. Dog tired, facing a 45-minute snowy mountain commute, and an early morning slated for the next day (to attend figure skating in coastal Gangneung), it made sense to grab a bite, call it a night early and catch some ZZZ's in my AirBNB. 

This plan worked except for sleeping in the next morning and getting a call from my AirBNB hosts who wanted to present me with a going away/New Year's gift. By the time we connected in person, the day's schedule was pretty much shot except for meeting a friend for an evening women's hockey match. 

Illness persisted for three more days, with better health not at all aided by my attendance at a string of outdoor (and Arctic cold/windy) events including a rescheduled downhill ski event and cross-country ski competition. 

Then there was the packing process including nearly a thousand new Olympic pins in need of sorting and two-week's worth of dirty laundry. I would have gladly traded pins with anyone who could read the Korean script on the AirBNB's new clothing washer-dryer. 

The search for new lodging (one-night only at the sweetest Art Hotel on the planet ... resting in a giant bowl-shaped bed) then getting there (a long drive south of Gangneung) devoured a day.

And then the ultimate distraction from blogging arrived ... from Russia with love. 

You see, during Sochi 2014 I made and new friend while attending the Cultural Olympiad concert performed by American jazz musician Brian Lynch. When the Grammy-winning trumpeter asked the mostly-Russian audience whether they knew the location of Milwaukee (where his family was watching the Sochi concert via Skype), I hollered from the balcony my approval of the Wisconsin city much to the amazement of the packed house, the band leader on stage and to a Moscow-based interpreter/translator seated on my row. 

The Russia-born linguist, a woman named Valentina, spoke fluent English then and now, and after four years of friendly Facebook messaging, in January 2018 she accepted my invitation to "meet me in PyeongChang" like good folks sometimes do in St. Louis. 

So the morning after the Art Hotel and viewing its museum (including a Pinocchio collection) and expansive modern sculpture garden, I took the speed train to Seoul's airport to greet Valentina then bring her back to the Olympic city.

Valentina proved to be a very funny and fun-loving travel companion. On our first day of re-acquaintance, she opted to join me for a Korean Cultural Olympiad event, which turned out to be a musical version of a popular folk tale.

The program hinted "audience participation" in the second act, and guess who got picked to go on stage and perform a Korean "fan dance" in female costume?

Answer clue: It wasn't Valentina. 

She instead delighted in snapping photos and video proof of my on-stage humiliation (the mostly female cast dressed me in the finest Korean silks and placed me center stage for a "fan dance" to the glee of, well, everyone but moi.

After the show, Valentina and I shared hearty belly laughs while losing count of the middle-aged Korean women smiling and proclaiming me "the star" of the performance.

Sorry, ladies. No autographs!

Though there was no time to blog about it, the next day my Muscovite buddy and I trekked to the furthest-afield venue to experience the women's ski event at which Lindsey Vonn ended her Olympic career and Mikaela Shiffrin earned a bronze.

Valentina was a natural at securing blog-friendly photos of Slovakia's yak-like fans, and the two of us managed to get her into the venue press center for Shiffrin's press conference. Kinda fun to get in the last question for the two-time gold medalist and her approach to the Beijing 2022 Games (I will post this interview at a future date). 

A long bus ride, a lost mobile phone, countless pin trades, two days and at least two Korean barbecue meals later -- as well as a 90-minute drive down the South Korean coast to meet V's longtime mentor (an interpreter and his wife who worked at the MPC for the Olympic Athletes of Russia), and it was already time for Valentina and I to hit the PyeongChang Olympic Superstore, attend the Closing Ceremony and then drive 3.5 hours back to Seoul.

Between work assignments, venue visits, meals and drive times, I think we averaged about four hours of sleep per night, making for one exhausted Olympic blogger by the Monday after Games' end.

Valentina must have enjoyed my company, too, for she said "meet me in ... Istanbul" as a follow-up experience. We're both flying in to the Turkish tourism capital on May Day.

Before our reunion on the other side (west end) of Asia, there's one upcoming 2018 Olympic experience yet to unfurl: The USOC's announcement of the Team USA Awards presented by Dow in Washington on April 26, followed by the athletes' visit to The White House just like in 2016.

Of course my credential request is submitted, and here's hoping for more time to blog this month following a visit to D.C.

And that is ... the rest of the story.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver and Valentina Kucheriavenko

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