Hey, the Elevators Worked: Pyeongchang’s Winners, Losers

  • Performers at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Sunday, February 25, 2018 in South Korea. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

  • USA players Meghan Duggan, left, and Hilary Knight with gold medals after defeating Canada at Gangneung Hockey Centre on February 22, 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

  • USA team skip John Shuster watches John Landsteiner and Matt Hamilton sweep in front of the rock during the gold-medal match against Sweden on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics' Gangneung Curling Centre. The USA won, 10-7. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Published: 2/26/2018 12:12:05 AM
Modified: 2/26/2018 12:13:10 AM

When I checked in at the media village before the Sochi Olympics four years ago, I was told it would be a minute. They were making the bed.

As in, constructing it. With hammers and nails.

A few days later, the elevators stopped working. You could take the stairs, but first you had to open a door with no knob.

The elevators worked two years ago at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, sort of. My room was on the eighth floor. You pressed 7 to get to it. Sometimes the elevator’s bottom aligned with the floor when the doors opened, sometimes it was off by five or six inches.

At the Pyeongchang Olympics: You could press a button in your room to summon the elevator, then receive notification when it arrived.

You didn’t hear about problems here with lost bus drivers or blown water heaters or inedible food (the most palatable item at the Rio cafeteria was Velveeta pizza) because there weren’t any. I’ve covered 16 of these things, and this may be the best in terms of logistics and hospitality.

Too bad more people didn’t get to experience it.

If there was a downside to these Olympics, other than the norovirus that swept through the staffers, it is the troubling trend of dwindling attendance. Other than families of athletes, tourists were scared off by political tensions in Sochi and Zika (and a whole bunch of other stuff) in Rio — and locals couldn’t afford tickets.

It was a different problem here. Events were pushed to mornings or late nights to accommodate NBC and European television, and the Pyeongchang area is not heavily populated. And for Seoul’s 10 million residents, it meant a 2½-hour train followed by a bus to reach venues — so you left at 6 a.m. or got home at 3 a.m.

Result: Empty seats everywhere except short track speed skating, which was one of the few events held at a normal hour (7 p.m.) and which is a South Korean obsession. There was no soul from Seoul.

But everything else about the past three weeks was outstanding: venues, organization, technology, transportation, staffing, security. Koreans should grab a gold medal and place it around their own neck.

Here’s a look at other winners and losers:

Winner: Norway. The country of 5.3 million won so much — 14 golds and 39 overall medals, both Winter Olympic records — that it ran out of special gold-colored shoes it issues to victorious athletes for medal ceremonies. The 39, nine more than its pre-Games target, broke the Winter Olympics record set by the United States in 2010. Marit Bjoergen won four cross country skiing medals, making her the most decorated Winter Olympian in history with 14. The next two athletes on the list, of course, are also Norwegians. But her record might not be safe. Johannes Klaebo won three golds in his Olympic debut, at age 21.

Loser: Russia. With athletes doped to the gills, they won 13 gold medals. With a diluted team of 168 athletes who had supposedly passed a strict anti-doping review, competing as the awkwardly named Olympic Athletes from Russia, they won two golds, including men’s hockey. (Yeah, the drugs work.) But the one thing the Russians absolutely couldn’t have happen did. First, a curler tested positive and had his bronze medal stripped. Then a bobsledder tested positive, just weeks after filming a commercial wearing a white sweatshirt that said, in English: “I don’t do doping.” We can’t make this stuff up.

Winner: U.S. women’s hockey. They won last March, threatening to boycott the World Championships in Michigan unless USA Hockey stopped dragging its feet on a new contract that provided equitable pay and support with the men’s program (which it did, after no one would play on its scab team). Then they won again here, getting a late goal to force overtime against nemesis Canada and prevailing in a dramatic shootout in the game of the Games.

Loser: NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL decided they would rather remain a niche sport in North America instead of using the global platform of the Olympics to extend their reach into Asia and beyond. Mission accomplished.

Winner, and Loser: Mirai Nagasu. For the past six weeks, the figure skater from Arcadia, Calif., captivated America with her hard-luck story of being left off the 2014 Olympic team despite finishing third at the U.S. Championships, sitting on the roof of her parents’ house eating an In-N-Out burger to decide her competitive future, coming back, making the 2018 team, becoming the first U.S. woman to land the elusive triple axel at Winter Games, enchanting media with her ditzy charm. She then blew it all in six minutes of interviews after a dreadful free program in the individual event. She clicked off excuses like Russians do triple jumps, cold showers, early bedtimes, traffic on the way to a Lunar New Year celebration at USA House, the exhausting team event, walking in the opening ceremony. Two words: Train. Wreck.

Winner: The Olympic Gaymes. For a couple of guys who finished 10th and 12th in their individual events, figure skater Adam Rippon and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy sure received a lot of attention. As they should. As the first two openly gay U.S. male athletes at Winter Olympics, they changed perceptions at the Olympics but, more importantly, back home. Think about this: NBC showed Kenworthy kissing his boyfriend on live, prime-time TV.

Loser: Mike Pence. The vice president, who once walked out of an NFL stadium because people weren’t standing as a sign of respect, refused to stand when a unified Korean team historically marched into the stadium at the opening ceremony. Then he picked a Twitter fight with Rippon that he couldn’t possibly win. Then Kenworthy posted a picture of him with his arm around Rippon at the opening ceremony with the message: “Eat your heart out, Pence.”

Winner, and Loser: Canada. Breaks its record for a Winter Olympics with 29 medals. Doesn’t win gold in the only events it really cares about — men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s curling — and then a ski cross athlete and his coach get drunk, steal an idling car and drive it to the Athletes Village because they were “cold.”

Winner: U.S. snowboarders. Shaun White, Chloe Kim, Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard sweep the snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle events for the United States. In all, snowboarders are responsible for seven of Team USA’s 23 medals.

Loser: U.S. snowboarder. Eighteen-month-old allegations of sexual harassment come back to haunt White hours after he wins an unprecedented third gold when he dismisses them as “gossip.” He later apologizes for his choice of words. Too late. Ketchup out of the bottle. Legacy stained.

Winner: Kikkan Randall. The 35-year-old cross country skier on her fifth Olympic team makes the most of the experience, winning gold in the sprint free relay when teammate Jessie Diggins passes favorites from Norway and Sweden in the final moments for the first U.S. women’s medal in the sport. The following afternoon, she is elected to the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes Commission. Said Randall, the only mother on the U.S. team: “I have so much passion and energy to put toward the Olympic movement, and it feels so good to have the athletes put their faith in me.”

Loser: Shani Davis. The 35-year-old speedskater on his fifth Olympic team loses a coin flip, per USOC rules, to luger Erin Hamlin to break a tie for U.S. flagbearer at the opening ceremony, then ruins her moment with a toxic tweet that references Black History Month. Then skips the ceremony.

Then, after not contending in either of his races, breaks IOC rules and refuses to exit through the media area (as all athletes are required) even after being told he could face repercussions. What should have been a celebration of an illustrious, barrier-breaking career became a pathetic example of someone unable to get out of his own way.

Winner: Ester Ledecka. Racing well down the start order when the course is typically slush, the 22-year-old from the Czech Republic won skiing’s super-G and then wore her goggles in the news conference because it was so unexpected, “I didn’t wear any makeup.” A week, she won the parallel giant slalom ... on a snowboard, becoming the first person in 90 years to win gold in different sports at the same Winter Games. “It was quite tough,” she said, “to change myself into a snowboarder.”

Loser: U.S. skating. The women’s hockey team aside, not a good Games for Americans on skates. The men’s hockey team got smoked in pool play by Russia and went out in the quarterfinals. The previous worst finish in women’s figure skating, part of the Winter Games since 1908, was sixth place; the three U.S. women here were ninth, 10th and 11th. There was one medal in short track speed skating, and one in long track. The latter came in the women’s team pursuit. Here’s what it has come to for a once-storied program: Matched against the mighty Dutch in the semifinals, the Americans basically tanked by resting their fastest skater to save energy for the third-place race.

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