Ken’s thoughts and observations from the 2018 Olympic Games

Feb. 12, 2018 – I’ve re-written this post from scratch probably a half-dozen times, trying to find the right words to say how I felt last night. Personally, I didn’t win anything. I wasn’t on the track, I didn’t get anything for being here, and honestly I couldn’t even get a shuttle ride from the track (we’ll talk about that some other time).

L-R: Mazdzer (USA), Gleirscher (AUT), Ludwig (GER)

But the feelings I had watching Chris Mazdzer, a guy who is (or at least should be) beloved by all and has had by all accounts a brutal 2017/2018 campaign, make history as an American luge athlete were pretty heavy. Never has the United States men’s luge athlete won a medal in the Olympics, nor has anyone in singles luge won anything higher than bronze (Erin Hamlin 2014). It was a huge day for a great person, for a national luge team and for a lot of people who’d worked so hard to help Mazdzer get where he was.

And I was here for it. And it was amazing.

The crowd was electric, and especially the roar when Mazdzer came across the line is something I can promise I’ll never forget.

The post-event press conference

The looks on the faces of Mazdzer, gold medalist David Gleirscher and bronze medalist Johannes Ludwig in the post-race press conference were enough to warm the coldest of hearts. Mazdzer recounted how after Lillehammer he felt just completely lost. He fell back on some sliding friends for help, and things turned around. Then here in Pyeongchang everything fell his way. He was sure he had it when he got to the top for his final run, but still had to make a clean run to win a medal.

It was something Felix Loch couldn’t do, and it’s why Gleirscher was sitting next to Chris Mazdzer still in disbelief.

Gleirscher called it a fairy-tale, coming from making the Olympic team for Austria by the skin of his teeth and never having won anything to speak of to being the first gold medalist in these Olympics for Austria.

Then there was Johannes Ludwig of Germany. His teammate, the guy who was supposed to win gold in this event, made a mistake nobody expected. Not even Ludwig. Mazdzer commented that Ludwig looked at his now fellow-medalists with a look of disbelief (one we all had, if we’re being honest). In part it was that he’d won a medal, but in part it was that Loch had botched the 9-to-10 transition and cost himself probably a half second of time.

So seeing those three guys win medals in front of family and friends, all of whom for some reason or other during the season had every reason this season to think there’s no way this would happen, was enough to get me all emotional.

And we’re just going into our third day of competition on the mountain. There’s a long way to go, and a lot of stories to be told, but we’re off to an incredible start.

Feb. 10, 2018 – Generally speaking, this whole trip has been relatively surreal. I remember my first time in a NASCAR garage to cover a race for a website I worked for back in the day, and that was a pretty crazy moment. Lots of life-long dreams being realized there, getting to work in a sport that I love and be in the middle of all of the action. I vividly remember standing in the middle of a track where heroes of my childhood raced and having a hard time believing it was real. I’m 100% fortunate for those opportunities, and all of the things afterward that they’ve brought.

 

Growing up I loved the Olympics, and during the ’88 Games I remember watching them almost start to finish during our winter break in elementary school. I was hooked. It’s essentially how I got into sliding sports, and in general has been why I’ve always loved the Olympics.

Fun game: It’s like “Where’s Waldo”, but instead find Chris Spring

So fast forward to last night’s Opening Ceremonies. Again, something that I’d always wanted to see live, and something I wasn’t sure a few years back I’d ever get to experience in person. Not only was I able to, but media were seated essentially across the stadium from the athletes in the lower bowl, and that ended up putting me about six rows back from the action. Basically, it was the NASCAR thing again, but you know, more Olympic-y.

The thing I didn’t expect was how emotional I’d feel watching people who I’ve come to know relatively well over the years of running this website reach their life-long dreams. Seeing the faces of athletes who were marching in their first Parade of Nations, and even those who were on their third or fourth, was worth this entire trip alone. Being here in person to see Lizzy Yarnold, Erin Hamlin, and other sliding sport athletes carry their nation’s flag into the stadium got me “right in the feels” (as the kids say). Going through photos later kind of did the same. Despite not having a photographer credential for the Olympics, my spot in the Olympic Stadium was plenty good enough to get some pretty good photos.

On top of all that with the athletes, I was fortunate enough to sit with some of the folks from Team USA. Seeing them react to Hamlin and the USA squad come into the stadium was something really special, too. It really was a great feeling.

Not pictured: Insanely excited Team USA staffers

On top of everything else, seeing a united Korea marching under one flag was something special in itself. Earlier in the event (prior to what you’d see on TV), there was a great taekwondo exhibition with a united Korean team. The North Korean cheerleaders (I’m sure you’ve heard of them) were going nuts for every single thing happening on the stage. It was a little goofy, but at the same time it was great to see something uniting everyone under the Olympic flag. Then, seeing the whole crowd stand up and cheer for that team together was something I legitimately won’t ever forget.

The excitement of the show was great. Lots of fireworks, more K-Pop than you can handle, and all of the general theatrics made it a great show. Much like a Cirque du Soleil show there’s probably something to be said for sitting further back and being able to see the whole thing as it’s designed, but being up close was something that made the seat snob in me rather thrilled.

The Olympics have started, and now it’s off to the Olympic Sliding Center for the next two weeks to watch some really great people make history.

To view the full photo album from the Opening Ceremonies, click here: Photo Album

Feb. 9, 2018 – So there was a time during the opening ceremonies (or maybe the closing ceremonies?) of the 2014 Sochi Olympics where I was chatting with radio legend Paul Varga, and I said something along the lines of “You know, one day I’m going to go to the Olympics to cover everything from there.” I figured it was a bit of a stretch for a bit, but if I did enough work with this little website and showed that I was serious about covering these sports that perhaps one day I could sit track-side somewhere and write about the sports I love.

I honestly didn’t think it would be here at PyeongChang 2018. But here I am.

The process to get here was long, I submitted my information to the USOC in the fall of 2016, and heard back on October 31st. Now, for those who know me pretty well, you know that October 2016 was a pretty brutal month: My little buddy Deacon had to be put down, and then a week later I broke my face playing softball. So at the very least, the very last day of October was pretty awesome.

Over the course of the next year and four months there’s been a ton of forms to be filled out, information to be sent, deposits to be paid and flights to be booked. And for someone who’s not been to an event of this magnitude, it’s a whole lot to take in, and a lot to wrap your head around.

So fast forward to February 6, 2018: Go time. I said goodbye to Lauren, Tiki dog, Speedy the turtle and the greatest city in the world (Durham, NC), and hopped on a plane for Atlanta. After a brief few hours in Atlanta, it was onto a 14 1/2 hour flight from ATL to ICN. Previous to this, my longest flight was RDU to Las Vegas. So I was in pretty uncharted territory as far as my personal experience goes.

The flight wasn’t awful. When I say “wasn’t awful”, I mean that in a “as bad as I figured a 14+ hour flight could be” kind of way. No turbulence, the guy in the middle seat was relatively skinny and slept most of the way, and we got to Incheon in one piece. Really, the only gripe was the fact we got there a smidge early, and someone was in our gate.

The mascots of the Olympics in Korea, and a really tired guy in the middle

Once landed, there was a little bit of Olympic processing, and a bunch of figuring out where to go. The good news is that the PyeongChang 2018 organizers had a small army of help out there to flag down anyone with an Olympic credential to make sure they knew where they were going. To be honest, this was one of my larger concerns: Getting to the airport and having not the slightest idea where to go. Problem averted.

A quick two hour KTX train ride later (they gave you two seats, one for you and one for your bag) and I was all settled into a rather “quaint” room. I’m sharing a three bedroom apartment with a great photographer named Jeff Cable (www.jeffcable.com) and right now nobody else. We’ll see how that pans out going forward.

One Opening Ceremony ticket

That brings us to Thursday. Things kicked off pretty awesome: Had a nice breakfast, chatted with WRAL’s Kathryn Brown for a bit, and hopped on a shuttle bus up to the Main Press Center. The MPC is huge, and takes up three buildings. It’s where many of the teams hold larger press conferences, and it takes up three buildings. While there, I grabbed my opening ceremonies ticket and went on my way. Right about here is where the wheels fell off on my otherwise fantastic trip thus far.

The information I was given to get to the sliding center was, for lack of a better term, “wrong”. I ended up on a bus just kind of riding around the Olympic venues for an hour, which was cool to experience, but also didn’t really help with me getting to the sliding center. So, with any luck, I’ll get there on Saturday. Thankfully, Shelley Rudman and Linda Davis both hit me up and are already pros of handling the whole shuttle situation. Come to find out, the folks at the help desk were REALLY wrong. But, now we know.

Today is the opening ceremonies, and I have a ticket. So no matter what, this trip is already a success. Every event after this is just gravy. You’ll see a host of sliding sport athletes carrying their nation’s flag (including Lizzy Yarnold and Erin Hamlin). More importantly, you’re going to see a lot of athletes fulfill an Olympic dream, which is  pretty fantastic.

So, here goes nothing. I’m at the Olympics, and it’s pretty awesome.