Let the games begin! After another as-typical-as-being-at-the-Olympics-gets day, yesterday evening was the Opening Ceremonies. I’ve watched many an opening ceremonies on TV, but all of those popcorn and couch viewings did little to prepare me for the in-person show.
As is my style, I started getting ready for our 6:20 call time about an hour too early. I took a little solace in knowing that Lindsey Vonn was ready before I was, until realizing she is staying 40 minutes away. Suiting up in the Ralph Lauren get-up basically felt like the most patriotic prom pre-game in the world. We subbed mixed drinks for bottled water, party snacks for rice and chicken, gowns for heated jackets, corsages for handkerchiefs, and heels for big warm boots.
The SMS T2 team- all dressed up!
The US Cross Country Marching Crew
Rosie Frankowski and I got down to the meeting point very early, and happily watched the other 218 athletes assemble alongside us. My favorite quote from that half hour was a luge athlete who realized he forgot his glasses at the last minute. He bolted up the 13 flights of stairs as the elevator was moving at mach-snail speed, and came back just in the nick of time. After seeing the show, I’m not sure whether he meant his sunglasses or prescription glasses…both of which would have come in handy later. Our Korean leader held the American Flag up high, and we all began our wild-wild west march to the first of many waiting points.
I felt a bit like a minion, Ralph Lauren army!
The lead-up to the ceremonies was a classic hurry up and wait mentality. The slightest bit of movement resulted in phones out and giddy cheers, only to move about five feet and wait some more. We first packed onto a bus, where Rosie realized what Lindsey Vonn actually looked like. I tried to play it cool and chatted with Lindsey about her three dogs, and she even asked about mine. Her dog, Lucy, has a German passport and successfully slept through most of a 16 hour flight without any accidents. Unclear if any of my dogs could accomplish that feat.
Rosie, before she knew who Lindsey Vonn was, and why I was taking her picture.
We then entered the main staging area along with all of the other countries. This was the longest wait, with about an hour of slowly regrouping as some of the at least 20,000 volunteers urged us to stay organized. There was food, drink, and some amazing dancing. A group of four Korean dancers choreographed a piece that included interpretations of all the Winter Olympic sports–props included. The best was probably the bobsled impression, which included fake snow and great sound effects.
At 8:02, the hurry up and wait reached a whole new level of anticipation. Fireworks started going off, and as countries began going into the stadium I just started hopping up and down. I attempted to stay close to Shaun White in hopes of getting some NBC TV Time, but I think he had strict instructions from NBC on where he had to be (by Anne Hart was NOT the place).
The joke is on Shaun White however, as I was the lead in to the prime-time coverage NBC had in the states. Life goal, achieved.
The cross-country team had insider knowledge to stay to the right, as that would be the outside of the counter-clockwise circle we’d be walking (closer to all the television cameras). We diligently grouped together, and just about lost it as we realized the song “Gangnam Style” would be our marching song. With the flag bearer leading the way, we heard them call “United States of America,” and then really just a roar from both the crowd and our delegation.
I attempted to capture some of the feeling on my phone (video coming later!) but it just doesn’t do the moment justice. I teared up twice that evening, and walking (dancing) my way around that circle was one of them. Even writing about it now I’m getting goose-bumps, and teammate Jessie Diggins likened the feeling to how she feels right after a successful race. I can only describe it as a million sparklers going off inside my soul, and then glittering out through silly smiles and unabashed hugs with complete strangers.
I’m sure we were only out there for a couple minutes, but time stood absolutely still and for all I knew we were marching for hours. But we eventually came to our seats, and people racing the next day took an early shuttle back to the village, while I settled into my heated jacket and seat warmer for the show.
Which was, in a word, amazing. The theme of the opening ceremonies was peace and harmony, exemplified by the unified walking of both South and North Korea under one Korean flag. The show utilized the most amazing dancers and lights to go through a rapid Korean history lesson. Then there were some brief speeches, followed by my second tearing up moment. Korean artists did a live rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” as softly lit candles held by angels worked their way into a dove formation on the floor. Everyone in the crowd had lighters, and representatives from the entire world swaying together in harmony is the closest thing to complete peace and perfection I’ve ever seen.
After an unspoken understanding amongst thousands that a moment of silence would follow the song, the Olympic flame was lit, and then the most amazing pyrotechnics show ensued. I’ve had Christmas in February, and I’m pretty sure I just experienced Fourth of July in February. There were flame throwers, spinning sparklers, roller skaters with flaming batons, fireworks…again I’ll have a video up shortly that will fail, yet attempt, to give you an idea of the grandiosity of the entire show.
With one final exceptional firework display, the games were officially opened and we all crammed onto shuttle busses back home.
One interesting note was the very subtle but strong security at the opening ceremony. As an open air stadium, the venue provided unique safety challenges. Namely, drones. When I took my seat I looked around to see what measures were taken and noticed several snipers located in an almost invisible spinning platform above, as well as two helicopters and a small plane circling above the stadium for the duration of the show. Additionally, there were two instances of individuals trying to “crash” the show by rushing onto the stage, and the speed with which they were apprehended was astounding. Even more astounding was the non-reaction from any of the performers.
It was easily the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, and I feel so humbled and so lucky to have experienced it first hand from the ground floor.
I also feel extremely lucky, as my boyfriend Thomas flew all the way to South Korea for five days to cheer on Team USA!
I’m the luckiest. This entire trip has been a dream, and while there is a lot more action to pack into the next four days (I’m heading home on the 14th after the sprint), I just want to take another moment to thank everyone who has helped me get to the point where I’m the one waving at the television cameras.