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2018: My Winter Olympics Experience

There are a generation of us — women who grew up in a world where participation in sport was not available or not encouraged. Some of us became recreational athletes as adults, expanding running from a niche to a community sport in distances from 5K through ultramarathons, and participating in leagues and masters teams for everything from curling to ice hockey. Some of us became superfans, supporting daughters, nieces and neighbors in their athletic endeavors. Many of us, in both camps, binge watch the Olympics every two years as if the athletes are our avatars.

After years of parallel live-streaming and TV watching for Turin and Sochi, London and Rio, and volunteering for sporting events at multiple levels, I had the opportunity to support team USA as a volunteer for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Successful Olympic Games rely on armies of volunteers. Volunteer roles with the organizing committee for the host city help with ticket sales, security processing, logistics and transportation, venue activities and spectator/athlete information. Country delegations rely on volunteers for roles with hospitality, medical support, logistics and helping athletes get outfitted for the games. For volunteers, it’s a labor of love – they pay their own way and wear their own clothes – for the chance to help every athlete and spectator have the best possible experience at the Games.

In nine days, fewer than 90 people, including 29 volunteers, helped outfit and transport 311 athletes and 230 staff from Team USA for the PyeongChang Olympics. By the time the Olympics and the Paralympics are finished, over 58,000 units of gear from Ralph Lauren, Nike, Oakley and Omega, and 1000 pairs of shoes will have been fitted (and tailored!) for Team USA competitors and staff. Team processing is an amazing operation, and only one piece of the Olympic volunteer puzzle.

As I’ve returned stateside (and am preparing to feed my live stream habit when the Paralympics begin later this week), I’ve been asked about my Olympic experience. Here are several takeaways from my time at the winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

  • Dedication: Many of the US athletes juggle world class sport performance with demanding full-time jobs. For example, the US women’s curling team includes a nurse, a pharmacist, and an insurance account executive. The team members are spread across two states and three cities, and travel 3 – 4 hours each way, on the weekend, to practice or compete together.
  • Something New to Love: The winter Olympics continue to bring new events to the competitive landscape. America’s Jamie Anderson won gold in the inaugural Snowboard Slopestyle competition in Sochi. She repeated her victory in PyeongChang, and added a silver in Snowboard’s new Big Air competition. Prime Women grew up on skis. You don’t have to be an expert on the nuances of scoring to enjoy new events.
  • See What TV Misses: Broadcast TV coverage provides a curated and narrated view. Actual competitions often include preliminary or qualifying rounds. Athletes work for years to earn an Olympic team berth, and many of them are never seen or heard of by the TV-viewing audience. Live-streaming broadens the scope and depth of our window into the competition.
  • Experience the Host Country: In addition to the events themselves, Olympics afford a window into the host country. I had not expected to fall in love with Korea, but I did. Street food, markets, Hanbok, the War Museum, the National Museum, K-Pop, skincare… my two weeks in Korea have encouraged me to book a vacation there in the future… with loads to do after I finish testing out the Olympic slopes for myself!
  • Visit Multiple Nations in One Village: Other countries also take the opportunity to showcase their sport and culture with houses in the Nations Village. At the Swiss House, I played at hockey and curling. At the Sweden House I tried biathlon, and had another go at hockey in a table top format. At Czech House there were VR events and beer, Canada House had poutine, English language event coverage, and more beer. You get the picture.
  • Youthful Energy: The oldest competitors were in their mid-thirties; many are in their teens or early twenties. Families are not always able to travel to the games, with the sizeable investment of resources required to support an athlete, and the cost of attending the Games.
  • Hope for the World: In every competition, I saw fans demonstrate their passion in equal measure for the sport. They cheered great performances from all athletes, and had an audible chorus of relief when fallen performers stood up on their own power.

There’s something universal about sport, challenging everyone who participates to rise above mental, physical and emotional boundaries that tether us to the day-to-day. And there’s something unifying about a stage in which amateurs compete only once every four years for the honor of representing their country.

Although the winter Olympics are behind us, it’s not too late to enjoy this in 2018. More than 300 hours of live coverage is about to begin over the six sports in the Paralympics. Don’t miss it. You’ll find coverage information here.

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