The Winter Olympics, officially, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, will be held on February 9-25 in PyeongChang, South Korea. This will be the second time SK will be the host. The prior occasion was the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988. Technically, however, the competition will commence tonight with a preliminary round of figure-skating competition (even though the Opening Ceremonies are not until tomorrow. Go figure.)
As has often been the case in recent Olympiads, politics has threatened to intrude on the Games. This time, the perpetrator is North Korea. On the plus side, the rogue regime has decided to participate. Moreover, NK and SK have agreed to march together in the Opening Ceremonies under a (“Korean Unification Flag”) and to field a “United Korea” women’s hockey team. It’s always nice when sports brings countries together. On the negative side, the Games are being held in close proximity to one of the most dangerous and unpredictable nations in the world, and we will all be holding our breath until the end.
Below please find some interesting facts with respect to the Games:
- The initial Winter Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France as part of that year’s Summer Olympics. Approximately, 300 athletes participated, including only 13 women. In those pre-PC days the women were relegated to competing only in figure-skating, as they were considered to be “too delicate” for the more rigorous competitions. Medals were awarded in only 16 events spread among five sports. In 1925 the IOC decided to hold separate Games for the winter sports, beginning in 1928.
- Curiously, the final medal of those 1924 Games was not presented until 1974. Why? Glad you asked. Apparently, an error was discovered in the score of one of the medalists in the ski-jump. As a result, the fourth place finisher was elevated to third. So, 50 years after the fact Anders Haugen received his bronze medal.
- Eleven year-old Norwegian Sonja Heine finished last in women’s figure-skating. Why is that significant? Well, Ms. Heine went on to become one of the best and most celebrated figure-skaters ever. She won gold at the next three Olympics and appeared in some 15 movies over the next 30+ years.
- The Winter and Summer Games were contested the same year through 1992. Thereafter, the IOC determined to hold them in separate years, so in order to establish the current schedule, the Winter Games were held in 1992 (with the Summer Games) but then again in 1994.
- The torch relay is always a big part of the Games. As most fans know, the lit Olympic Torch is maintained continually in Athens between Games. Prior to the Games it is transported to the host city, often in unusual and roundabout ways. This year, its journey began on October 27, 2017. During the 101-day sojourn the various modes of transportation included turtle ship, sailboat, marine cable car, zip-wire, steam train, marine rail bike, yacht and robot. All in all, there were some 7,500 torch bearers (symbolizing Korea’s 75 million person population) and 2,018 “support runners,” who provided security for both the torch and the runners.
- There will be competitions in a record 102 events in 15 sports. Disciplines such as mixed team alpine skiing, big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, and mass start speed-skating will be making their Olympic debuts.
- Athletes from 92 countries are expected to compete. Most of them have no expectation of winning a medal. They are just thrilled to represent their country. The US will have the largest delegation (some 242).
- Russia will not be one of the 92. The IOC banned the Russian delegation due to doping. However, it is permitting some 170 Russian athletes, who have been able to demonstrate compliance with IOC doping standards, to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag.
- The official mascots are a white tiger and an Asiatic black bear.
- In the US the broadcast will be handled by NBC. Due to the 14 hour time difference (in the eastern time zone) many of the events will be shown live in prime time. However, there will still be “spoilers” on the internet.
- Security has been a major concern at every Olympics since 1972. As mentioned above, this year, fears have been exacerbated due to the close proximity of the venue to North Korea. Several countries, including US, France and Germany, had considered not participating, but, as I write this, they all will. In fact, VP Mike Pence plans to attend. No doubt, the fact that NK is expected to send a delegation, including Kim’s sister, has alleviated some safety concerns.
For the most part, the Olympics and sports, in general, have tended to bring people together and provide a temporary respite from political and diplomatic tensions. Most people just want to enjoy 16 days of friendly sports competition. Hopefully, that will be the case here.
Let the games begin!