Admittedly this blog is a bit preachy. I apologize in advance.
A day after returning from PyeongChang I don’t know whether I am jet-lagged, asleep, or chock full of adrenaline. What I do know is that I am emotionally quick-triggered (no I wasn’t crying watching Virtue & Moir skate to the Hip’s Long Time Running), already nostalgic about my trip, and eternally inspired. The 2018 Winter Olympics were nothing like I expected them to be at all. In fact, I don’t think they were what many people expected.
Every Olympic Games follows a similar news cycle. The drama of bidding and the subsequent elation of winning for the host country. The controversy over costs and taxpayer money as venues start being constructed. Security fears, logistical concerns, construction delays. Every Games has it. But in many ways PyeongChang had even more lead-up drama including the military threat of North Korea, the ban of the Russian NOC due to drug scandals, the absence of National Hockey league players in men’s hockey.
The region itself was also under attack. The host towns were deemed too small and lacking in decent accommodation, restaurants, and hospitality venues. The time zones were going to make for poor television ratings in North America. The local apathy and economy would lead to poor ticket sales. I almost fell into the doom and gloom trap that caused me to skip Sochi and Rio, but a random conversation with the COC’s Chris Overholt changed my mind.
A quick backstory. Back to being spoiled. I was lucky enough to attend London 2012 and when I left I vowed to attend every Olympic Games from thereon out. Threats of terrorism, safety, and travel issues convinced me not to attend the 2014 and 2016 games. Yet, after both, I felt a serious pang of regret. My thoughts about maybe attending Korea were turned positive when Chris said to me, without bias, that Korea was going to be great. So on February 8th I booked flights. On February 10th I booked hotels. On February 17th my family and I hopped on an AC061 for a smooth thirteen-hour direct flight.
What awaited us I cannot describe. Korea wasn’t at all what I expected. We spent two days in Seoul, before spending five days in Gangneung and PyeongChang. The architecture sucked, the streets were dirty. The food awful in some places. The taxi drivers useless. The mountain bus shuttles frustrating. The lack of English speakers almost insurmountable. A complete dearth of information about local events and attractions.
Yet I loved every minute of it.
First of all, the place is fascinating. Seoul’s streets crawl with amazing pedestrian markets, food stands, street performers, and people watchers. Its restaurants are lively, boisterous and energetic. Its homage to its past is as clear as its focus on the future.
The Olympic host region provided more eternal memories. Both venue clusters were outstanding. Every sports facility and fan venue was monumental yet amazing. None seemed to be fiscally inappropriate yet all had a grandeur. The host towns may have lacked the old world charm of Europe, or the breathtaking beauty of Whistler or Rio, but there was something infectious about their modesty.
The theme of the games was Passion. Connected. As much as the technology was meant to be the connection fuel, that was the exclusive domain of the people. While many ticketed events had poor crowds, the live sites and public festival areas were jammed with Koreans. They lapped up everything they could and reveled at the fact that the world was on their front step. They lined up for hours to buy merchandise, get mascot pictures, trade pins, and participate in amazing activations by The North Face, Samsung, and Jesus. Yes, there was a lot of ambush marketing by religious groups everywhere you turned!
The Canadian in me was proud to wear Red & White. As we walked the less beaten paths of the towns, many locals smiled at us, bowed, said hello, or in the case of one young seven-year-old Korean, shared all fifteen English words she had in her vocabulary. Which was fifteen more than I know in Korean!
Team Canada didn’t miss these Olympics. They fulfilled their Be Olympic motto to the max. Record-setting medal performances. Dealing with death threats. Hockey teams holding their heads high, even if their medal results were lower than they hoped for. An amazing Canada Olympic House venue became our home away from home. Yes, it served Poutine and S’mores! It was impossible to go more than five feet without seeing a friendly face.
I feel bad for the PyeongChang organizers. There should have been more people there. We found a brand new hotel in walking distance to Olympic Park for a reasonable price. I have never felt safer in a foreign country. The politeness of store staff was punctuated by their literally saying Ahn-nyoung-hee Ga-sae-yo (goodbye) to you every time you left. Once we started to discover the nice pockets of town we found delightful coffee shops, parks, and restaurants. But many people I talked to missed those gems.
I feel bad for the athletes, support staff, trainers, doctors, federation staff, and coaches. They deserved more fans in the stands. They deserved more cheers for a lifetime of work. They deserved more support. They deserved it right then and there.
Being Olympic isn’t just about competing. It’s about sponsoring, watching, cheering, and acting. It’s about recognizing that everybody in a country plays a part in our athletes’ success. It’s about getting your children involved in sports. It’s about getting yourself off the couch and committing to fitness. It’s about supporting the brands, government agencies, governing bodies, and donors that fund all levels of amateur sport in this country.
Being Olympic is about attending your local university sports varsity games or volunteering at a community ringette tournament. It’s about demanding the media provide more diverse coverage on a year-round basis. It’s about inviting our governments to get out of the propaganda business and fund more programs that will create a healthier and happier society.
You don’t have to travel to an Olympic Games to Be Olympic. But I wish more Canadians had gone to Gangneung. The people there wanted to show off their region. They invested heavily and deserved your financial support. It’s a challenged region economically and what little I could do to help, makes me feel good.
The Olympic Games are working hard to get back to the original ideals of the movement and that feels good. Its only two years away before Tokyo. Let’s go everybody! Start planning now. I am happy to be your ringleader.
Let’s get into the groove today. You can still travel to the Paralympics in PyeongChang or show your support online and by watching the broadcasts. There are many many other upcoming domestic and international sporting events that need your love. If we could do one thing together, as a nation, it would be to fill the stands and jam the airwaves every time our young athletes compete.
If we do that together, then our country will truly Be Olympic.