My Olympic Diary!
Here is a little glimpse into how we experienced the Games in 2018.
03-19-2018, 7:53 AM Korean Time
Good Morning, South Korea!
I’m here, and I am ready to be both a spectator and a volunteer for the Canadian Olympic Committee in Canada Olympic House at the PyeongChang 2018 Games. I’ll start this Olympic Journey Diary by giving a bit of background how this adventure came to be. Ian and I taught English in Seoul, South Korea from 2007-2008. We had the most wonderful, memorable experience and made incredible friends. When it was announced that South Korea would be hosting the 2018 Winter Games, we made pact that we would go back to the country that meant so much to us for the Olympics.
Fast forward to 2017, where we sent out an email to pretty much anyone we thought would be interested in attending with us. Weeks later, we held an Olympic Planning Committee meeting at our house with our friends April, Jane, Anup, Justin, Grace, Vicky. We FaceTimed our friend Ian Macleod, who still lived in Seoul at the time, and would also be joining us, and would help coordinate everything from a Korea logistics standpoint. The meeting was a great way for everyone to connect on the sports we all wanted get tickets to, to chat about where we wanted to stay (Airb BNB vs. Hotel, Seoul vs. Olympic Village area), looking into volunteering for Team Canada at Canada House (April had done it before at the London and Pan Am Games and highly recommended it), and other logistics we needed to figure out before the ticket lottery deadline.
It took lots of spreadsheets, money transfers, group email threads and texts, but we did it. We all had tickets to various events, and April, Anup, Ian T, Jane and I would also volunteer for Canada House. Vicky unfortunately could no longer make it, so we had a few excess event tickets. Over the next few months, volunteer shifts were coordinated, flights were booked and bags were packed. Ian and I also had the extra parental duties to make sure were covered and our little guy was to be taken care of with his loving grandparents and Godfathers.
And now, we’re here. I’m trying my best to write an Olympic Diary, as I think going to the Olympics is such a unique trip, and may interest others! I want to write down experiences as they happen, as I know there will be lots of things I forget. So many logistics are involved, and so much planning. We really needed all hands on deck to make this work. I already know every minute of time spent on it will be worth it once we get there, so thanks in advance for checking out my post and reading along on my Olympic Journey!
So, let me begin.
Wow, am I tired… however we’re also running on adrenaline, and I have a feeling that’s the way this entire week will be. April, Grace, Jane, Ian and I are on our way to Gangneung Olympic Village. There are three different areas for the Olympics, and Gangneung is where we will be spending a large chunk of our time, as it is where the skating, hockey and curling rinks are, along with Canada House. Us ladies are heading to see Canadian Sweethearts Scott and Tessa perform their short program in Ice Dance, and Ian is off to his first volunteer shift for Team Canada.
Last night April, Anup and I had our first volunteer shift at The Canada Olympic House. Anup and I worked Access and Accreditation, and April worked Food and Beverage in the Friends and Family Area.
We approached the massive structure, now known to us as Canada Olympic House, first spotting the signature red roof we had only seen pictures of up until now. Once we checked in with the Volunteer Coordinator, we were given our Hudson’s Bay Volunteer Kits which consisted of a Team Canada back pack, a neck warmer, three shirts, one hoodie and a toque. Of course we would be decked out in red and white for the entire trip!
I was in charge of scanning the COH (Canadian Olympic House) wristbands for Athletes and Delegates. It was a moderately busy evening, and I got to speak to Olympians Jennifer Jones, John Morris, Yuki Tsubota, and coach Greg Rafter. Also, it seems that collecting pins is a “thing” and the Canadian Women’s Curling Team gave me one of their pins, which was pretty neat.
It was a great first full day, filled with nostalgia in the beginning when Ian and I went back to our old neighborhood (more about that in another post!), meeting new friends and fellow volunteers, and feeling patriotic. I can’t wait to see what Day Two brings!
02-20-2018, 6:00 AM Korean Time
SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED! Haha, I have a feeling I will be able to start every Olympic Diary post like that.
This will be short and sweet as I didn’t get any sleep last night. (We got an additional Air BNB close to Olympic Village so we wouldn’t have to do the train commute last night and this morning, and it was a big open loft, so I didn’t sleep well! But loved the loft, and it was fun staying close by). So, yesterday was absolutely amazing as it was the first day we went into Olympic Village. We met Jennifer Jones (again!) at the Olympic Rings and got a picture with her. April was Fangirling to the max on the inside. We explored the grounds and saw people from all over the world, with flags draped over their shoulders.
AND THEN IT WAS THE BIG EVENT: SCOTT AND TESSA.
Grace, Jane, April and I had tickets to the Ice Dance short program. We were so anxious as we watched everyone skate, munching on fried dumplings and drinking mule (water) in our seats. Two men sitting behind us, a Korean man and a Japanese man, leaned forward and handed us Scott and Tessa banners they had been given. One of them was in English and the other was in Korean. It seemed that everyone was rooting for the legendary ice dancers.
The French team was second last and had a beautiful skate. (Despite us getting texts from back home about the French female skaters top falling off, in the stands we had no idea and thought she was professional and beautiful). Scott and Tessa were up next and I think the four of us held our breath for the entire performance.
It was breathtaking.
Now that they finished the short program, all we can do is hope for another stellar performance tomorrow.
The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Olympic store, checking into our Air BNB and grabbing coffee at a local shop. We volunteered that night, and rode the ‘Scott and Tessa High’ all day.
02-21-2018, 9:30 AM Korean Time
A Classic Korean Night Out
Last night, despite being exhausted from our day of volunteering at Canada House (for those of us who were volunteering) we had our group dinner and night out in Seoul. Having spent the Monday evening in a different Air BNB (as I mentioned, we decided to get an Air BNB in PyeongChang for the evening so we wouldn’t have to do a quick commuting turnaround from Olympics to Seoul) and then volunteering all day (I was on Operations, which meant I did mostly Wrist Band money top-ups), we were ready to head back to Seoul on the train, freshen up and head out. We weren’t as tired as I thought we would be from volunteering all day… since Scott and Tessa won, we must have just kept that energy going!
Sidebar: Jane and I stood in the corner of Canada House on our break by the bleachers while watching the big screen, crying as Scott and Tessa skated their way to Gold. Then, Scott and Tessa proceeded to enter the House right before our shift ended, and we got to see them up close and personal after such an exciting moment for them!
So, back to what I was saying, we had pre-planned Tuesday evening as our big squad celebration and we were in it to win it. We headed to a neighborhood that Ian M recommended called Kyunglidan, which was super hip with tons of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately the galbi (Korean BBQ) restaurant he wanted to take us to was closed, so after a few failed restaurant attempts, we walked to Itaewon.
Itaewon has always been known as the “Foreigner District” of Seoul, and we spent many Saturday nights there back in 2007-2008. I actually taught a private tutor every other Sunday evening there too, so I was there a lot. It holds a special place in my heart, if only because of the memories created in the then-somewhat sketchy area. Itaewon is where you can find Western items (certain products, English books, and restaurants) that you can’t find anywhere else in South Korea, so it was always fun to go and have a Bulgarian or Thai dinner for example, and stock up on used English books and Diet Pepsi. Oh, and Ian and I always loved the shawarmas we got there.
We stumbled into an awesome galbi spot, and all eight of us sat down to enjoy some proper Korean BBQ. I had been going on and on about how I wanted galbi during my first few days here, so I was hoping it would live up to the expectations, especially for April and Anup who were having it for their first time, and for Jane who was a vegetarian when she lived in Seoul eight years ago.
For drinks, we were severed rice and plum wine, Soju (a Korean must-have) and Cass (a Korean brand of beer). We ate kimchi, kimchi jjigae (a delicious soup), and pickled side dishes.
Luckily, my galbi experience was everything I remembered and more. We ordered three types of meat including pork galbi, pork belly, and beef galbi. The sauces and garlic were just as I remembered. Everything tasted like home to me.
We then trekked up towards the old “Hooker Hill” (yes, it is called that for the reason you think) with our bellies full, and made our way to a noreabang. (For those who don’t know, noreabangs are Korean singing rooms and they are a big part of Korean culture. You rent out a room and sing karaoke, order drinks and snacks with your friends and/or coworkers. Once in this dark room, with the liquor flowing, it is easy to see how you can sing your heart out until the sun comes up and not even realize it. This happened to us often.)
Some of the signs and restaurants on the way to the noreabang, despite there being a lot of changes in Itaewon, were still as I remembered. We sang and danced, while enjoying Cass and Soju, until 1:00 AM and then called it a night. After all, some of us at a 9:00 AM train to catch the next morning.
It was a classic Seoul night out, the way I remember: galbi, singing and friends. It’s just as I always remembered Seoul, and will continue to, in my heart.
*Note: I will include my Seoul recommendations in a separate, upcoming post.*
02-21-2018, 11:05 PM Korean Time
Ski Cross, Holland Heineken House, and Bobsled, Oh My!
We made it on the last train to Seoul, once again! This afternoon and evening was so much fun. Justin left us after Ski Cross to go meet friends from his teaching days, and Grace trained in to meet Ian M, Ian T and I for a trip to the Holland Heineken House and then the Bobsled Finals.
Let me back up a bit.
The past few days have been a whirlwind. Today, our day started with Ski Cross. Ian M, Ian T, Justin and I took the train in to PyeongChang to head to the event and we weren’t disappointed. For those of you who don’t know much about the timed freestyle event, click here. It started with the seeding event, and Canada was lucky enough to have four competitors participating, so it made the competition all the more exciting. The ski hill is also located beside the half pipe, so in between runs we got to watch some athletes practicing on the half pipe, which was an added bonus!
After the seeding event, there was a “halftime” type show, featuring Korean cheerleader/dancers and an older female popstar. This event reminded me of all the silliness and fun I missed about Korea, and what makes South Korean pop culture so unique! Of course the cheerleaders danced to Gangnam Style and all the South Koreans rushed the pop star as she belted out some of her most well-known songs.
Soon, it was time for the main event. Two Canadians made it to the Finals, which made it all the more exciting! There were a ton of Canadians there, and CBC, COC and Reuters journalists (now THAT was an interesting interview) were filming us and interviewing us. It’s so interesting to meet fans from across the world. We met a Australian girl and her father who are lovers of the Olympics, we met a group of Kiwi’s who were cheering on the only New Zealander in the competition, and we had about ten groups of South Koreans ask to take selfies with us. You just never know what will happen during a day at the Olympics!
The most exciting part of the day? We were FRONT ROW to see Canada get GOLD! Brady Leman had the run of his life and we were there to experience all the exhilaration and elation that goes along with seeing a Canadian win Gold.
02-22-2018 12:30 AM
Late Train Ride Journal Entry continued…
I don’t think I have explained this before, so I will now. Many of the countries participating have Houses. For example, we volunteer at Canada House. Canada House is a place where athletes and their friends and families can go hang out and watch the events in a changed-up atmosphere. This year, for the first time ever, spectators can buy daily tickets and also enjoy their time at Canada House. Canada House has TV’s everywhere, a giant flight deck sponsored by Air Canada which has a patio with fire pits and a seating area, a full menu that included poutine, bleachers to watch the events on the big screen, and Canadian beer. It was such a great, large space. Another cool thing is that it is open to everyone, not just Canadians.
Holland Heineken House was the same idea. They are known for epic dance parties in the evenings, as they bring in different bands and DJ’s each night, and of course, Heineken and German fare. I bought our tickets in advance, thanks so some Intel from my sister Shane’s friend Paige, also a COH volunteer, and we were ready to go. The four of us took a short train and then a taxi to HHH and didn’t regret it. Everyone was lovely and the card top-op was similar to the wristband top-up that Canada House offered. This means you put money on your card and spend it inside the House, rather than using cash or credit to pay for things once inside. We got ourselves some beer and white wine spritzers and ate bitterballen and beef curry burgers. We watched curling on the big screen and chatted with the US Men’s Hockey Team affiliates beside us. We even saw a friend I made yesterday, Marjory, since she is a volunteer for the Dutch House.
Soon it was time to leave for Bobsled, and I must say, it would have been nice to stay a little longer to see the nightlife at Holland House begin, to watch the Dutch Team Celebration that night, and to partake in an epic dance party. I guess there’s always next time! I’m really glad we went though. It was cool to see another proud House. Grace and I were actually a little tipsy, and the four of us had a great time.
On the way to Bobsled, we met Sarah Nurse’s father and aunts. (Sarah Nurse is on the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team). They were also heading to Bobsled and we just had a great ole’ time talking to them. We also met Mikaël Kingsbury, the most decorated alpine skier and he was lovely.
For the most part, the event lines at the Olympics have been short and efficient. Bobsled was another story. We waited almost an hour in line to get our bags checked and our bodies scanned, before hiking up to the bobsled track. We were freezing by the time we got there. Once we found a rail to lean on at a tricky curve in the track, we forgot about how cold we were and started getting excited. Seeing the track up-close is surreal and the amount of maintenance it must take is unimaginable. We arrived between heats and were looking up at the big screen; there was a South Korea cheerleading performance as entertainment. Suddenly, with no warning, a test bobsled zipped by us and made us all jump and yelp. It was terrifying and shocking to see how fast the bobsled actually goes, and that was just the test sled. (I took a few slow motion videos of the event, check my Instagram Highlights to see them).
The best part? Canada won a Bronze! It was super exciting to celebrate another Canadian medal on-site and witness an uncommon sport, such as bobsled.
It was an exhilarating, fun, exhausting day. Jane, April and Anup had spent the day in Seoul, and will most likely be sleeping when we roll in at around 1:00 AM. I know we are all looking forward to tomorrow though, and we cannot wait to see what it brings!
02-22, 2018, 10:35 AM
My Last Olympic Day
We are currently on our way to the Woman’s Olympic Hockey Game where Canada and the USA will compete for the Gold. We have no idea what to expect from the fans (everyone we have met so far has been pleasant and kind), as this rivalry is intense and heated.
Grace is working on our “flying geese” goose hats for the game, and 11 of us are attending. We have about an hour once we get off the train to get our goose hats taped on our heads, and get into the stadium. There are a ton of Canadians on the train, and our energy levels are peaking!
02-23, 2018, 12:35 AM
Ian T, Jane, April, Anup and I are on the train back into Seoul from PyeongChang after a long, exhilarating day. Our entire group made Canadian ‘flying geese’ hats to wear for the hockey game and they were a huge hit! Our friend Grace was the brains behind the operation and they looked amazing. We were spotted on CBC camera feeds, and were also interviewed by Global News! We headed into the arena and our excitement mounted as our new friends Paige (a fellow volunteer and friend of my sister Shane), Rachel (a fellow volunteer and friend of my friend Sonya’s) and Marianne (a friend of Ian M’s) joined us.
I don’t know if I have ever been to a professional sporting event as intense at the Women’s Gold Medal Game. It was Canada vs. the US, and it was wild. Firstly, I know I mentioned I didn’t know how the fans would act towards one another, but they were super friendly and cordial. Everyone was high five’ing and making jokes, and there was no animosity. It was really cool to see.
Before the game even started, a major highlight occurred for Grace, April, Jane and I: we met Ice Dance Royalty Scott Moir. He was standing in line to get beer, and was obviously on a two-Gold-Medal high. He was so sweet and funny, and he loved our goose hats! He took pictures with us and I was elated.
In between the second and third period, we noticed Hoda and Al Roker in the audience, so I dragged Grace down to their seats and told them that Canada loves them (our friends in particular) and asked them for a picture. They were super sweet (photo below) and told us good luck!
Beyond the intensity of the game, it was fun to look over to the stands to our right where a lot of the Canadian athletes were sitting, and were also super into the game. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the gifs of Scott Moir getting upset at some of the referee’s calls, you should look them up ASAP).
Once we went into overtime, Ian, Grace, Paige and I never sat down. We were too worried, it was too intense. USA ended up winning in a shoot out, and they played a great game. And yes, as Canadians we always want a Gold Medal in Hockey, but Silver is the next best thing! Besides, the US hadn’t won an Olympic Gold in Women’s Hockey since 1998.
Ian T, April, Anup, Jane and I all ran to Canada House after the game for our volunteer shift. It was my last night working at Canada House, and my last day actually participating in the Olympics. Despite the Gold Medal loss, Canada House was buzzing. Tickets were sold out, athletes were partying everywhere, and it seemed everyone was enjoying themselves. When a few of the Women’s Hockey Team entered, there were initially some loud claps from the House, but they quickly quieted and it was clear that what the team considered a loss was still too fresh. But that didn’t stop the beer from flowing, and it didn’t dampen the vibe of the House, at least from my perspective.
Getting off the train now, I will write my last Olympic Diary post tomorrow!
02-23-2018, 11:07 AM
My Olympic Summary
It’s Friday and I’m officially finished participating in the 2018 Olympics. (I mean, I still feel like I am there because of our 24/7 Olympic Group Text Chat that never quiets, but still). I’m in Seoul for the rest of my time here, and I’m excited to reacquaint myself with this brilliant, vibrant city. While I have an exciting “Kelly Day” ahead, Ian, April, Anup and Jane are volunteering their last shift at Canada House and then heading to curling to see the Japan vs. Korea match. Grace plans on joining them and has already bought craft supplies to make posters for the game on her way up on the train. I know that today the Arkell’s arrive (super cool how that all came to be) and there is a street ball hockey tournament, Canada Vs. Us with Olympics and Staff. That should be a fun day and night for the squad! And I really hope Jane gets to meet her dream guys, the Arkells.
<Update: Jane and April met the Arkells and chatted with them! And the curling game was really fun, according to the numerous texts and pictures I received. It sounded like a great way for everyone to end their 2018 Olympic experience. To top it off, Ian T. and Grace have been quoted in the Globe and Mail, haha!>
I want to quickly note how well I think the Olympics were organized. I had high expectations, and they were exceeded. The prices were reasonable, every venue and transit area was incredibly clean, and the volunteers were cheery and helpful. Well done, South Korea!
Speaking of volunteers, my last night volunteering at Canada House was fast-paced and fun. I was working Operations again, which meant I was at the wrist band top-up desk, helping people add money to their wristbands so they could enjoy the provisions in the House.
Operations is the position I liked the most out of all the volunteer positions I held, since it meant I was constantly busy and chatting with people. (Surprise, surprise I liked this one, right? *Eyeroll*). The evening was busy and the House was full of athletes and their families since the Gold Medal game had just finished, which I believe I mentioned yesterday.
Those of us who volunteered and weren’t present at the Volunteer Recognition Event (our squad wasn’t present as it took place during the first week of the Olympics), were given a certificate and a gift to take home. It was a kind gesture, and nice to be recognized when really we were just happy to be there!
Volunteering for the Canadian Olympic Committee at the Canada Olympic House is an experience I will never forget. As I mentioned earlier, we were given lots of swag from The Bay, which was great, but the best part was the atmosphere and the people. We were surrounded by interesting volunteers and COC staff every day, and everyone has a different story to tell, and a different reason for being involved. Some were retired, some had kids or family members who were medalists and referees, some taught English in Korea like we did, and some were huge sports fans and liked an adventure.
The athletes in the House were always friendly and energized, and it was so fun to honour them through the various Sport Celebrations that Canada House puts on for each sport during the evenings. And lastly, I mentioned the atmosphere, but I will again: the charged environment in the House was contagious. I couldn’t help but be excited while I was there.
Being at the Olympics, both as a spectator and as a volunteer, made me realize how blessed many people in our country are. There were SO many Canadians that had flown across the world to participate in some way. We supported our athletes and each other with pride and respect. During some emotional moments, I reflected on how proud of my country I am. I would often look around Canada House during my shifts with shining eyes and my heart warmed. It sounds cliché, but I haven’t experienced anything like this before.
The endless planning and preparation and the lack of sleep didn’t (and still don’t) matter. Small potatoes, as the saying goes. I would do double the work, all over again. Our group all wanted to experience every moment in the best way possible, and I really think our squad of eight lived the Olympics to the max this past week. We wanted to meet people, watch the world’s best athletes, represent our country, learn, explore and have fun together. We just wanted to experience the magic of the Olympics. And with this particular group, it’s all or nothing, so we were IN IT. I feel so grateful I got to experience this journey with my husband and some of our closest friends.
We wanted to make memories that would last our lifetime, and create stories and inside jokes that I know Ian and I will be telling Xavier (our little boy) about one day. We did all those things. Whether you’re a crazy sports fanatic, or just like being in a spirited, energized atmosphere, the Olympics are for everyone. It’s a twenty-four-hour a day, two-week celebration. We celebrated hard…we didn’t look back… we did it all.
And I wouldn’t change a thing.