Bruce Arthur: The problem with Pyeongchang is … there aren’t any problems
Cold weather is a hot topic in the early days of Winter Olympics but other than the norovirus outbreak, there’s not much to complain about. And that’s weird, Bruce Arthur writes.
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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA—Welcome to Pyeongchang, where everything is fine. Sorry, there is probably a way to make that more interesting. One moment.
Welcome to Pyeongchang, where there is one fat robot janitor, and some robot fish, it’s a little cold, and everything is fine.
Oh, that wasn’t much better.
We are used to coming to Olympics and looking for problems, you see. There are always problems. In Vancouver there was not enough snow, and also we killed someone on the luge track, and it only took a few days for some cocky Brits to start calling it The Worst Games Ever. In London there were some vague worries about terrorism. In Sochi there were the hotel roomsthat started to disintegrate within moments of their construction. In Rio, there were the human body parts in the water and a collapsing economy, and whatnot.
But here in Pyeongchang, it’s all just dandy, thanks. Yes, it is cold. It is slated to be the coldest Winter Games since Lillehammer in 1994. Which means it is basically Toronto winter weather, but with less snow
Still, the organizing committee held a press conference about the weather. It opened with some meteorological details — it will be between minus-2 and minus-5 C with a wind chill of minus-10 C for the opening ceremony Friday, which is more or less normal for this time of year. Spectators will be given a blanket, a poncho, heated seat cushions, hand and foot warmers, plus a toque. And Korea Meteorological Administration director Choi Heungjin said, “according to our forecasts, the temperature will not be problematic to the opening ceremony.”
Frankly, that seemed to be everything we needed to know. Undeterred, the media asked weather questions. Here is an edited transcript:
Q. “On Saturday there will be snow, and it will be minus-11. Do you think the snow will turn into ice that day?”
A. “Yes, there is high likelihood of snow turning into ice if it is that cold.”
Q. “You talked about temperature; please explain overall weather.”
A. “There will be snow on Saturday . . . other than that there will be no problematic weather.”
Q. “What about spectators at the opening ceremony?”
A. “People need to bundle up.”
Thirteen minutes of weather talk and what came out of it was, in cold weather you should dress for the conditions. Canadian cross-country skier Dahria Beatty was asked about the weather and she said, “I talked to my parents a couple days ago, and it’s minus-37 in Whitehorse. It doesn’t seem that cold here.”
It may cause a few inconveniences, but yes, conditions are fine. Everything is fine. Well, except perhaps the outbreak of the norovirus, which, oh god.
They pulled 1,200 security guards into quarantine Tuesday after at least 32 experienced stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea. Fifty-four new cases were added Wednesday. It began in a security personnel housing facility in the mountain cluster in Jinbu, and has been identified as waterborne or foodborne. No athletes have been affected yet, but there were intimations that there were some problems with the quarantine.
“Some (quarantine) processes did not go very smoothly,” said Kim Hyunjun, the director of Infectious Disease Control Centre. He also said: “Our prediction is the outbreak is ongoing, and it is not finished.”
So that is not terrific. Hand sanitizer is starting to make guest appearances, and it would be very bad if the Olympics turned into one of those Caribbean cruises that makes the news. Zika never came to fruition in Brazil, but it was the Zika off-season there. Norovirus, according to the infectious disease people, peaks here in January and February.
Still, other than the possibility of a vomit-and-diarrhea pandemic featuring a virus that can live nearly two weeks on surfaces and contaminated fabrics and could easily last for the entirety of the Games, things are pretty smooth. Ticket sales are still a little slow, but so it goes. North Korea remains next door, and after a protest greeted a North Korean ferry carrying an art troupe, the North Korean news service KCNA’s headline read: “Spasm of Psychopaths Accustomed to Confrontation with Fellow Countrymen.” American Vice President Mike Pence is coming to do his Frown Across The DMZ To Show Our Resolve bit in person, but Kim Jong Un’s sister will also attend the Games, which seems a good sign of co-operation between the Koreas.
It’s not even so odd here, really. Yes, there is a chubby robot vacuum, which some overzealous media member will likely try to ride before the end of the Games. Yes, there are robot fish, which flap around. Yes, there are statues of silver naked men wearing what appear to be hoods outside the main media centre. It’s much more genital-y than your typical Olympic setting. And yes, it’s cold. Frankly, we should appreciate that there are still cities cold enough for a Winter Olympics.
And instead of Sochi’s shoddy last-minute construction, or the gritty reality of Rio, there are hyperfuturistic touches in the media residences, with confusing computer panels that control the lights, and heated floors. Oh, and almost all the non-bathroom surfaces have been covered in protective plastic wrapping, since the buildings are new and will be sold after the Games.
Come to think of it, that could also come in handy in the case of a norovirus outbreak. Maybe they really have planned this thing as well as possible, as it turns out.