Here is how excited everyone in Pyeongchang was about how cold it was going to be at the Opening Ceremony: The press conference put on by the Korea Meteorological Administration was the hottest ticket at the Media Press Centre this past week. On one of the shuttle buses, a photographer who had attended the dress rehearsal at the stadium suggested two pairs of ski pants as appropriate Opening Ceremony attire—that or just wrapping yourself in a comforter. The British Olympic Association had to dispel a rumor that they had advised their athletes not to attend. The American Olympians I talked to seemed mildly concerned but sufficiently assuaged by their heated jackets and the fact that they could just cruise through the parade of nations and then bounce.
The Pyeongchang Olympic Organizing Committee debuted a kit of cold weather supplies that would be distributed to media, fans, and athletes in attendance. It included a blanket, a plastic poncho, a beanie, hand warmers, feet warmers, a heated cushion for your seat. The contents were on display in the hall outside the Press Workroom all week.
If this sounds like a lot of whining and worrying over winter weather at the Winter Olympics please consider that, in addition to this being perhaps the coldest Games ever, the stadium at which spectators would watch the ceremonies—it was built just to host the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic games, and will then be torn down—doesn’t include a roof or concourse heating, reportedly because that was too expensive.
The Opening Ceremony will be inescapable on television, and you will be able to see it for yourself. But how cold was it? Well, not as cold as people were expecting, actually. In what constitutes a high since my arrival, the temperature hovered around 27 degrees all evening. How did it feel? Pretty damn cold still, to be honest. I wore heattech and long underwear and ski pants and snow boots and packed hand warmers in my pockets and still struggled. You would be correct in surmising that I am a weather wuss, but I was not alone. Inside the stadium, fans huddled around heat lamps and packed into “spectator shelters”—plastic tents with space heaters inside, basically. By the end of the night, the crowd was a a sea of complementary ponchos; people with insufficient footwear had wrapped plastic bags around their subpar shoes. The concourse was littered with hand warmers.
Volunteers down on the floor hustled athletes through their march to keep the whole program moving along. In the media section, seasoned Olympics reporters confirmed that it was “certainly one of the speediest” Opening Ceremonies.
(About those volunteers: NBC forbids pictures or video from inside the venue, but when you watch the primetime broadcast tonight, keep an eye out for the army of snowsuit-clad volunteers forming an unnecessary human circle at the center of the floor during the parade of nations. Those volunteers kept up a not-quite-synchronized and strikingly passionless dance that looked like a bootleg macarena for the entire time that it took to introduce 91 nations. Even more confounding, the volunteers stationed at the top of all the aisles throughout the stands also did the same dance the whole time! Who knows, maybe it was just a ploy to keep warm.)
Anyway, all of this is just to say, you should be extra impressed by everyone’s favorite shirtless Tongan, Pita Taufatofua.