Why you should care
Because the Winter Olympics are a wonderful blend of tradition and innovation.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
Let the games begin. Tomorrow the 2018 Winter Olympics officially get underway with the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, South Korea. Athletes from countries around the world will compete in the pageant of goodwill and global citizenship. PyeongChang is about 80 miles east of Seoul and 60 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. This marks the second time South Korea has played host to an Olympic Games — Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988.
A mix of old and new. The Winter Games are a blend of tradition and innovation. While certain events, such as Alpine skiing and ski jumping, are traditional, others, like freestyle skiing and snowboarding, are more recent additions. Big air snowboarding, meanwhile, is making its Olympic debut this year.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
It’s friggin’ cold. According to Accuweather, PyeongChang is the Earth’s coldest location for its latitude. The popular South Korea ski destination sits 700 meters above sea level, contributing to frigid conditions that have reportedly reached single digits below zero Fahrenheit this week. At a recent rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony, spectators walked out of the uncovered stadium due to viciously cold Siberian winds.
Russian athletes will participate. With Russia banned from this year’s Winter Olympics because of past use of performance-enhancing drugs, the International Olympic Committee will refuse to attribute any accomplishments to Russia, meaning the country’s medal count will be zero. But there will still be more than 165 Russian athletes — donning neutral uniforms — competing.
And North Korea? Ticket sales are short of the pace set at previous games, likely because of Russia’s expulsion and the tension between North Korea, South Korea and the United States. South Korea is doing its best to calm prospective visitors, both uniting with North Korea for the Opening Ceremony march and competing alongside North Korea in women’s ice hockey.
It’s a new day. There will be plenty of new faces at PyeongChang. The Nigerian women’s bobsled team is the sport’s first team from Africa to ever qualify for an Olympics. And, for the first time ever, Mexico qualified more than one athlete for the games. Team USA will have plenty of familiar faces, from Alpine skiers Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn to hockey star Hilary Knight, but also a new crop of young athletes appear ready to break out. Born in Ghana, 17-year-old Maame Biney is an exciting speedskater to watch. Another 17-year-old, Winter X Games star Chloe Kim, will look to capture her first Olympic medal too.
There’s more than one way to train. Just ask top U.S. skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, who’ve been using virtual reality goggles for the past year to preview 360-degree views of the slopes they’ll hit on the Taebaek Mountains. Another part of the U.S. skiing training regimen: headsets that stimulate the brain and boost strength, endurance and muscle memory, as well as strobe glasses that intermittently flicker to enhance vision processing and attention.
WHAT TO READ
The Physics of One of the Craziest Big Air Snowboard Tricks Ever, by Sophia Chen in Wired.
“The dizzying snowboarding trick … involves catapulting off a ramp into four off-axis flips (called corks) and five full spins. Only four people have ever completed the 1,800-degree stunt.”
Olympic Star Akito Watabe’s Guide to Nordic Combines, by Akito Watabe at Olympic.org.
“I use Zen to keep my mind calm. I meditate when I need it, like before leaving the hotel for competition. It allows me to accept everything. What has happened and what will happen. It allows me let go and focus on what I have to do.”
WHAT TO WATCH
PyeongChang Winter Olympics: A Drone’s View
“A few years ago, PyeongChang was just a small Alpine county in South Korea. The ski resort … has since transformed itself.”
Watch on Wall Street Journal on YouTube:
Figure Skating Stories to Watch at PyeongChang 2018
“The reigning world and Olympic champion, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, will be favored to win gold again in PyeongChang. … Yuzuru’s home rink in his native city of Sendai was badly damaged by the tsunami in 2011, and he has raised more than 10 million yen to help rebuild it.”
Watch on Olympic Channel on YouTube
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Curling has arrived: Two decades after the sport’s first Olympic Games at Nagano in 1998, Curling is breaking into the mainstream. With 11 Olympic teams, broadcasts of the sport will comprise roughly 50 percent of televised coverage.
A record-breaking number of medals will be handed out. 102 across 15 sports in 18 days. That includes four new events: big air snowboarding, freestyle skiing, mass start speedskating and mixed doubles curling.
The Olympic medals in PyeongChang were designed by local designer Lee Suk-woo. Not only did Suk-woo completely change the design of the medal, but he also changed the strap it hangs from. Winners will wear their medals on a Gapsa ribbon embroidered with Korean designs.