The cold returns for Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

AP
1 Comment

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The cold is back for the Winter Games.

After two straight balmy Olympics where some might have wondered if it was even winter, let alone the world’s pre-eminent freeze-dependent sporting event, athletes and visitors alike will finally experience a serious chill in their bones during the games in mountainous PyeongChang.

How cold is it?

So cold that tears spring to the eyes. So cold the ink in a pen grows sluggish and fades as it scribbles over a page. So cold that South Korean men sometimes flash back to being posted for hours on the frozen frontline during mandatory military service.

So cold at least six people were treated for hypothermia last month after a pop concert at the open-air Olympic Stadium.

“We all hope it will be better in February, but if it’s like it is now, there will be big trouble. It’s just too cold for outsiders,” said Choi Jong-sik, 64, smirking in his short-sleeve shirt as a visiting reporter removed layer after layer of thick outerwear for an interview at Choi’s PyeongChang restaurant.

Vancouver and Sochi, where ski jumpers were landing in puddles, got complaints for being too warm, as might Beijing in 2022, but the weather in PyeongChang will likely dazzle spectators, and confound organizers and athletes, in its bitterness.

PyeongChang sits nearly half a mile above sea level in the northeastern corner of South Korea, not too far from the border with the North.

It is one of the coldest parts of the country — wind chill in February is often in single digits (Fahrenheit) — and notorious for a powerful, biting wind that gathers force as it barrels down out of Siberia and the Manchurian Plain and then across the jagged granite peaks of North Korea.

It can be hard to get people here to talk about, or even acknowledge, the cold. It is simply a fact of life, and stoicism is often the rule when confronted with outsiders’ weather-related questions.

“The only thing foreigners can do is the same thing locals do: bundle up,” Nam Sun-woo, 60, a fishmonger in PyeongChang, said. “Not many outsiders understand how cold it gets here. It’s not like where they’re from. This kind of cold is completely different.”

The weather will be on display, and maybe a major nuisance, at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in Hoenggye village.

The much-criticized 35,000-seat, open-air, pentagon-shaped arena, which cost 118.4 billion won ($107 million), will be used only four times — during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics — and then torn down.

On a recent blustery day, from the top of a nearby 17-story building, the white angular stadium looks a little like a giant discarded Lego piece.

It rises isolated on a wide, flat plain, muscular mountains cascading down behind it. It looks vulnerable and exposed — all those thousands of orange and pink seats laid bare below the wide dome of sky — but also slightly magical as the sun glitters off millions of tiny ice flakes blowing across the plain.

The wind is brutal, and it pounds the entire area, including the stadium and the rooftop, where the gusts rattling through the big AC units sound like a doomed bomber plummeting out of the sky in an old war movie.

Despite the cold, organizers have done little to protect stadium visitors. Spectators will have to sit exposed for as long as five hours in the elements during the nighttime ceremonies.

There are no built-in heating systems for the seats and the corridors, and it’s too late to build a roof and too expensive to install central heat, officials say.

Many of the concertgoers last month where six were treated for hypothermia reportedly flocked to the arena’s toilets for a rare bit of respite from the cold.

Organizers plan to provide each spectator at the Olympic ceremonies with a raincoat, a small blanket and heating pads — one to sit on, one for the hands and a pair for the feet.

They also plan to install polycarbonate walls above the highest seats across the two northwest sides of the stadium to block the strongest winds. ‘

About 40 portable gas heaters will be placed in aisles between the rows of plastic seats, and lots of hot coffee and tea, fish sticks and heated buns will be on sale.

Still, by the time the Opening Ceremony starts at around 8 p.m., the wind chill at the stadium could be minus-14 degrees Celsius (about 7 F).

That is much colder than the wind chill at the ceremonies for the Vancouver and Sochi Games, which were 5 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius, respectively, according to South Korean officials.

When Associated Press journalists visited the area earlier this month, it was minus-18 degrees Celsius (a little below zero F) midmorning at a resort near Olympic Stadium.

Sochi temperatures soared at times. On Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, for instance, it was 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Farenheit).

The coastal areas of Gangneung, where skating and hockey will be held, are warmer than PyeongChang. But it’s still cold.

Tourists can be seen in huge quilted coats standing on piers and posing for pictures as huge, frigid blue-green waves crash behind them; they run and laugh, trying to dodge the spray.

Locals often smirk when they see bundled-up tourists waddle around PyeongChang like penguins.

Choi, after an interview, stands outside his restaurant, still in his short-sleeve shirt, smoking a cigarette while a well-layered-up reporter shivers nearby. “Sometimes I go out like this and the people in warm coats look at me like I’m crazy.”

A drive into the mountains twists through isolated former mining towns and past frozen fields, frozen rivers, frozen forests and dramatic granite peaks that look in places like they’re sliding into the valleys.

The sun sparkles on the brittle ice covering the landscape; the wind roars through the pine trees like traffic on the interstate.

“It’s cold, and it’s going to get colder. But what can we do?” said Ahn Young Ju, 36, a restaurant owner in the remote town of Nammyeon in Jeongseon county, which will host the Alpine skiing events. “We were born here, so we try not to think too much about it.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
Getty
0 Comments

The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
Getty
0 Comments

GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!