After the free dance and the medal ceremony, I started to feel acutely aware that the Olympics were quickly coming to a close. The women’s short was the day after the free dance, and then there was a day off, and then we closed the Olympics with four consecutive days of skating events—women’s free, pairs’ short, pairs’ free, and gala.
I still hadn’t been to curling, speed skating (long track), or hockey, of the sports in the Beijing cluster. I briefly considered taking the train to the mountains or sliding centre on the day between the women’s short and free, but then remembered that I didn’t bring the right kind of cold weather and snow gear. So I finally learned how to use the MyINFO website to look up schedules and planned out the week. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I’d misread the schedule earlier on, and we wouldn’t be able to see a speed skating race, as they were all on the same days as skating.
Since the medal ceremony was a bit late, and it took a while to get back to the hotel on buses, I took it easy on Tuesday morning. Danielle and I made it to breakfast just before the food service ended, and then went back to our room and worked from the hotel until mid-afternoon. I felt refreshed and like I was able to do great work at the women’s short, and I loved seeing some really excellent skates. Wakaba Higuchi and Kaori Sakamoto were the highlights of the night for me.
On Wednesday, Danielle and I got going a bit earlier (though not too early!) and went to the Ice Cube for a women’s curling round robin session. We were excited to see the USA match up against Canada. This American (me) had been explaining curling rules to the Canadian (Danielle) for a week and a half, every time we saw it on a TV in the MMC. So we were both amped and ready. We’d heard from a friend that Bing Dwen Dwen was often seen at the curling venue, and hung out on the floor, inside the Closed Loop, where desperate photographers (like us) could get photos with him. Unfortunately, there was no Bing Dwen Dwen sighting on Wednesday morning. The Canadians won the match and stayed alive in the tournament, which I was happy about. My affection for curling definitely has its roots in Canada.
Curling has to be the chillest sport at the Olympics. We arrived about an hour after the matches had begun, yet we were still able to stroll up to the photo desk and get a Field of Play sleeve. We were only the sixth and seventh photographers that had requested one. And as long as you’re quiet, the etiquette seemed to be that you could just roam around the sidelines and photograph from different angles. If you were in a rush, you could easily get a good variety of curling photos in about twenty minutes and call it a day, but I wanted to see how the matches ended, so we stayed for the whole session. The curling venue’s media centre had slightly different snacks from skating, but the same Coca-Cola concession stand, so I got a flat white, and we worked on photos for a bit. The venue was the swimming and diving venue for the Summer Games in 2008 (the Water Cube), so the press room was way bigger than it needed to be for curling. I’m sure it was packed in 2008!
After a bit, we headed to the bus stop, missed a bus by one minute, danced in the cold for about ten more minutes, and then went back to the MMC to catch a bus for the Oval (speed skating venue). The bus absolutely crept through traffic on the way back to the MMC, and we missed the bus to the Oval by about two minutes. Since it wasn’t a competition day, buses were only running to that venue once an hour, so we were stuck at the MMC until the next one. As a result, we only got to see one training session at the Oval; it was for the women’s 1000m.
The Oval is a gorgeous new venue, and I was glad that we got to see it, even if we couldn’t go to a race. We had the photo areas almost to ourselves, so that was really nice! I couldn’t believe how long it took us to walk around to the short end of the track, yet the skaters could blitz down the long side in just a few seconds. Most of the skaters seemed to be taking it easy the day before their race, so the majority of my photos definitely look like practice shots—ponytails out and glasses off—but a couple of the athletes did a lap or two with their hoods and glasses on, and I was able to crop them in so they look like a real race shot. This is why I love going to ice dance practices—the teams usually wear their costumes, so I can get really great photos from different angles than I might have during the event.
We headed back to our hotel earlier than usual, and as a result, ended up on the bus with a guy named Fred, who is a manager for the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS). OBS is in charge of providing high quality broadcasts to any country that wants it (and pays for it). Only a couple of countries send their own camera crews to events for broadcasting (I saw USA and Japan for sure at figure skating). They’re also responsible for doing all of the setup to make these broadcasts possible. So Fred told us that he only had two weeks off after Tokyo, and he’d been in Beijing since September. He’d done the 21-day quarantine to enter Beijing, so from October to the beginning of January, he could move around freely in and around Beijing, and he said that he had a great time and really loved his time in China. He encouraged us to come back “when this is all over,” whenever that ends up being!
We had dinner at the hotel on Wednesday night, and it was cheap, but not very good. The hotel offered several set menus, which were a lot of food and a great value, but they were all “Western” style meals. I would have much preferred a set menu in the local cuisine. We watched a bit of the men’s hockey game in the hotel restaurant, and it reinforced our desire to not attend a hockey game (just not a big fan, at least of the men’s style of play). Then back to our room, where we watched some of the last night of short track races and worked on editing, of course.
Thursday morning, I really wanted to head to curling again, but Danielle had some fires to put out for her business back home, so I went to the Ice Cube on my own. I wanted to see the USA men once, and it was the last session of the round robin. They needed a win to advance to the medal round, and they did it. I was a little teary, and it was funny to see how chill they were about it. I was close enough to hear their conversations, and after some nonchalant high fives, the skip said, “Okay, next step.” Once again, curling is the chillest sport.
After curling, I met up with Danielle at the MMC for a little bit of editing time and some lunch, and then we headed to the women’s free skate. Due to the doping controversy, I felt an uncomfortable energy in the arena throughout the event. I was also very tired by this point, and I felt like I wasn’t really present. I regret not feeling more in the moment, but the Olympics are quite a marathon, and this was probably my worst day. Everyone had kind of assumed that Kamila Valieva would finish in the top three, and there would’t be a ceremony in the venue afterwards. In the end, since she finished fourth, there was a venue ceremony, but neither Danielle nor I felt like we needed the photos, so we decided to beat the rush and head out.
Well, we thought we could beat the rush. I failed to consider that a lot of media was in the building just because of the controversy and to see the event, and wouldn’t be attending the press conference or the ceremony. So we ended up on an absolutely packed bus heading back to the MMC, which I do not recommend. At least we got back to the hotel a bit earlier than expected, though. (Still quite late!)
After the close of the women’s event, it really started to feel like our departure was imminent! We started getting notices left in our hotel room almost every day, detailing departure procedures. I started panicking about being able to get my COVID test certificate (due to us leaving in the wee hours of the morning, I needed a rush on my certificate, and had a hard time explaining this to the staff with the language barrier). I started planning how I might pack everything up, but didn’t actually start packing anything. And I thought about what I might want to accomplish before I left—last photos to take, last sights to see. It was hard to believe that it was starting to end.