Gangneung, South Korea • It takes about 24 hours door-to-door to get from Salt Lake City to our home for the next three weeks in the Gangneung Media Village on the east coast of South Korea, depending on the traffic.
We left Utah on Tuesday morning, had a layover in Seattle (where Richard Sherman was wearing a hoodie, staring into his phone screen and trying to avoid fans in our terminal) then flew west over Savoonga, Alaska, across the International Date Line, along the edge of Russia, before swinging wide over the Yellow Sea, so as not to disturb any possible button-pushers in Pyongyang, and touching down at Incheon International Airport.
Shortly after takeoff, the pilot announced over the speaker that we had roughly 20 members of the U.S. Ski Team with us on board. They were greeted with applause. Park City slopestyle skier McRae Williams was on the 11-hour flight. Same for slopestyle and halfpipe skier and Westminster College student Devin Logan, who was singled out by the captain for winning silver at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
From there, we took the recently completed train from one coast to the other, past the lights in Seoul, the bridges across the Han then into the darkness of the rural Gangwon Province. A group of Slovakian media passed around a bottle. Near them, a group of Canadian women urged each other to stay awake, to fight through the jet lag, for the 2-hour train ride. It didn’t take long before most of them were snoozing.
On another train car, AP sports writers from the U.S. were discussing the drama surrounding the Josh McDaniels coaching saga. They, too, eventually subsided to the pressures of heavy eyelids.
The backdrop for any Olympic Games, it seems, is a mixture of hope and dread.
As we arrived in South Korea, the wind whipped us, making good on the promise that this will be the coldest Olympics in decades. Reports indicate that temperatures could plummet to as cold as minus-5 degrees (wind chill included) during the Opening Ceremony on Friday evening at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang. These gusts, they say, are born just north in Siberia and eventually sweep south.
Meanwhile, officials already desperately were trying to contain an outbreak of norovirus that had sickened at least 80 people and forced the quarantine of some 1,200 South Korean security guards.
On a television inside the media village check-in center, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence was declaring again that America would not back down to North Korea, with its threat of a functional nuclear arsenal just across the border from Pyeongchang.
Still, there is a buzz, a positive energy, here for now.
Braving the bitter cold, volunteers stand at the ready at every convenience to help guide the way. We haven’t been here all that long, but it means something’s working when you haven’t seen a single journalist pitch a fit.
You could start to feel it as the train pulled into Olympic Station Wednesday night, and the rings on the stadium where Friday’s Opening Ceremony will be held shined in the night. Those waiting to board for Gangneung were hopping up and down, running in place, joking together, doing whatever they could to stay warm before the train’s doors opened.