Friday evening marked the beginning of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. In fact, a handful of sporting events kicked-off on Wednesday, but the Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron signified the official commencement of the Games.
Before I share a few thoughts on the Opening Ceremony, allow me to not-so-briefly re-cap my first few days in Korea…
The Road to PyeongChang
My journey from Ottawa to PyeongChang began bright and early on Tuesday morning (4:00am to be exact), and didn’t culminate until I arrived at the Gangneung Media Village (GMV) at approximately 8:00pm local time on Wednesday. From start to finish, I was in transit for over 26 hours.
Thankfully, the trip was a smooth one, and perhaps most importantly, I arrived with all my baggage and camera gear intact. While it would have been nice to check into my room and simply dump my stuff and head to bed, there was still a lot of work to do before I could call it a day.
My first priority was to venture to the Main Press Centre (MPC) to sign some paperwork and pick up my official Olympic photographer’s sleeve, which, in addition to my “Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card” (OIAC), is a critical accessory. Simply put, without both items, I would not be allowed to enter any Olympic venue to take pictures.
Much like the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which included two distinct venue ‘clusters’ (Vancouver and Whistler), the PyeongChang Games are laid out in a similar way. In this case, the GMV is located in the Coastal Cluster in Gangneung, and the MPC is located in the Mountain Cluster in Alpensia. The two clusters are approximately an hour apart. To get from one to the other, accredited personnel can take a special shuttle bus service.
By the time I made it to the MPC, received my photo sleeve, and then returned to the GMV, it was past midnight. In other words, from the time I woke up in Ottawa on Tuesday, to the time I made it to bed, I was awake for more than 30 straight hours.
On Thursday, after a few hours of sleep, I spent the morning familiarizing myself with the Coastal Cluster, and in particular the two venues where I will be spending the bulk of my time; the Gangneung Ice Arena (GIA) and the Gangneung Oval (GOV). GIA is where the figure skating and short track speed skating events take place, and GOV is where all the long track speed skating events are held.
Team Canada’s long track team held a pre-competition press conference on Thursday afternoon at Gangneung Olympic Village. Since I’m here shooting for Speed Skating Canada, I was asked to photograph the presser. I must say, it was very inspiring to hear the athletes describe their excitement in advance of the Games, and express their pride in representing Canada on the world stage.
Later that evening, I decided to head to the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre to photograph the qualification round of the men’s normal hill individual competition. Having never shot ski jumping before, and being positioned at least 200 yards from the take off, my photos weren’t great, but it still felt terrific to be shooting an Olympic event.
At the conclusion of ski jumping, I returned to the GMV and prepared for Friday’s assignment: the figure skating team event.
Friday morning began with breakfast at the GMV dining hall at 6:00am, followed by a brief shuttle ride to GIA. A mandatory photo briefing is held two hours before every event, which, in this case, meant arriving at the rink before 8:00am.
Since all Olympic figure skating disciplines are considered ‘high-demand’ events, even photographers require tickets. You can’t simply show up and claim a photo position; these are generally pre-determined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). For instance, photo agencies such as Getty, Reuters and AP, are placed in prime spots around the field of play, whereas all other photographers end up in second-tier positions.
I’m hardly complaining. The IOC makes every effort to ensure that photographers get the best images possible, regardless of the event or the venue. While shooting from an elevated position at GIA wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, it does allow for a difference perspective of the action on the ice.
For those who may not be familiar with the figure skating team event, it consists of 10 countries that each designate skaters to compete in women’s, men’s, pairs, and ice dance categories. Countries earn points based on their final ranking in each category. Heading into the Olympics, Canada was widely considered the favourite to win gold in the team event.
In this case, the competition began with the men, followed by the pairs. Canada’s representatives in these two categories were Patrick Chan and Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford. Patrick placed 3rd with his short program, and Meagan and Eric placed 2nd with theirs. Their combined result meant that Canada sat in 1st place overall after the first day of the competition.
Following the figure skating, I returned to the GMV to change into some warmer clothing before heading to the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony…
Let the Games Begin
PyeongChang Olympic Stadium is a temporary venue, which was constructed with only two events in mind: the opening and closing ceremonies. It’s an open air stadium, located near the Alpensia Ski Resort, with seating capacity for 35,000 spectators.
While the temperatures here in Korea are generally warmer than they are back home in Ottawa at this time of year, it’s still winter, so there’s definitely a chill in the air. Because the Opening Ceremony was being held outdoors, and I was required to be there at least two hours before the event began, I made sure to wear as many layers as possible in order to stay warm.
Because Canada’s co-flag bearers are ice dancers, and I happen to be at the Olympics serving as the official photographer for Skate Canada, I put in a special request for a high-demand ticket so that I could attend and take photos throughout the ceremony. Fortunately, my request was granted and I was able to capture some very memorable moments over the course of the evening.
I’d be curious to know what those of you who watched the event from home on TV thought of the ceremony. Witnessing it live was a truly mesmerizing experience. The various elements of the event were at times poignant, humorous, uplifting, and thought-provoking. Furthermore the entire evening was a feast for the eyes (and the camera), with such a tremendous mix of colours and themes.
Needless to say, my favourite moment of the evening was watching two very good friends of mine, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, carry the Canadian flag into the stadium. Being able to photograph such a significant moment in both of their lives was such a privilege!
Unfortunately, I did not have an especially great view of the Olympic Cauldron being lit by Korean figure skater and Vancouver 2010 gold medallist Yuna Kim. However, after the ceremony ended, I was able to get a much closer look at the cauldron, which was cool.
All in all, it was a very memorable evening, and a terrific way to kick-off my Olympic adventure. This blog entry is already much longer than I intended, so rather than adding more words, I’d much rather share a few photos which will invariably do a much better job of describing the Opening Ceremony than I can.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. I hope to post additional entries in the days ahead. Please stay tuned!