Melanie’s #OlympicBlog – Nĭ hăo from Beijing!

Nĭ hăo from Beijing!

It’s now Thursday evening, and I am so excited for the figure skating events to begin tomorrow! 

It has been so nice to have all week to get acclimated. I got to work out the bugs in the shuttle bus system and got lost when I wasn’t in a real rush, so I can hopefully avoid making mistakes like that now that the big show is beginning. It’s been nice to photograph in (mostly) empty rinks, without having to jockey for photo positions, and I got to try out a number of spots so I think I know which places I might prefer for the events. There’s a draw for Field of Play (ice level) positions each day before the event begins, but so far, the rest of the photo positions will be first-come, first-served. I find this very stressful and much prefer assigned seating, but what can you do?

Anyway! I think I left off my last blog on Monday night. Since then, we’ve been bouncing between the main rink, the practice rink, and the Main Media Centre. It’s been a lot of riding shuttles and waiting for shuttles, honestly. The shuttle frequency leaves a bit to be desired, and it’s unclear if that will improve as the Games get going. I feel bad for photographers who need to hit multiple venues on the same day. 

The practice rink is right next door to the main rink, but we are only allowed to access it via the TinyShuttle(TM), which until today, only operated once an hour. It also has an extremely limited capacity of nine people at a time. Since it wasn’t easy to go back and forth, I cut out some practices that I originally planned to attend, and tried to keep things simple. This is such a long event, and I felt like it would be easy to burn out early, so I tried to keep my health and sanity in mind this week. I’m behind on photos, of course, but I think I’ve had enough rest. I have not had enough food, but there’s not much I can do about that. 

Most of the shuttles operate on a loop, so you can’t go wrong if you get on the right bus, but one of the routes to the rink is a line, not a loop, and operates in two different directions. Danielle and I got on the bus going the opposite direction one day and ended up at the athletes’ village! We tried to just stay on the bus to head back to the MMC (a short trip, thankfully), but we were shooed off, so we hung out in the small parking lot in front of the visitors’ centre for about eight minutes, and then the exact same bus came back and we boarded to head back to the MMC. At the MMC, the same bus goes on to the rink, but we also had to unload there and couldn’t run to the pickup location fast enough to catch the same bus, so it was a 20-minute wait for another one. Not a huge problem, since it was just a practice day, and I’m so glad we didn’t make that mistake when trying to arrive for competition!

I’m thrilled that I have already had the chance to borrow some incredible camera gear. I am a Canon girl, but the Canon desk wasn’t lending out gear until today, so I borrowed a Sony a9 Mark 2 yesterday, along with a 400/2.8 lens. It was my first time trying to shoot sports with a mirrorless camera that can track active subjects. Fortunately, Danielle has recently made the switch to a Nikon Z9, which also uses that system, so she was able to give me a few tips. Then today, I borrowed the Canon R3, which is their new mirrorless flagship camera. The tracking technology was a huge step up from the Sony (which was released over 2 years ago, compared to the Canon which is brand new), and I had the best time photographing dance practice. I was able to extend my loan, so I’ll be using it for the competition tomorrow, too.

My other big accomplishment of the week was securing a ticket for the Opening Ceremony! I can’t believe that I will get to experience this! I’m not super excited about being outside in the cold for six or seven hours (we have to arrive very early), but I’ve packed extra layers, and I hope I’ll be warm enough. It’s not that cold in Beijing (usually above freezing), so fingers crossed.

We have mostly been eating dinner at the MMC this week, and I have to say that the robot-made dumplings have been quite good. Danielle and I also finally got to try the food that’s delivered by robots from the ceiling today, and it was pretty good, too. I had fried rice and she had fried noodles. Both dishes came with more vegetables than I’ve seen the whole week thus far, so that was good!

One final anecdote—one day as Danielle and I were getting off the shuttle at the Main Media Centre, a man with a thick French accent told us, “Have a good day,” and then after a dramatic pause, added, “If you can!” It sounded like a threat. So obviously, that’s been our joke all week. At the end of each practice group, the announcer tells everyone to have a good day, and we always add, “If you CAN!”

I’m finding myself getting emotional several times a day as I think about how the Olympics is the culmination of a lifelong dream for everyone who makes it here. I feel so awful for the athletes that have had their dreams dashed by a positive Covid test, and I am trying not to let my anxiety over the daily testing take over my experience here. I do feel relatively safe most of the time, except when we all have to remove our masks to eat in the same spaces. But in general, almost everyone I see is wearing a mask properly, and this is the first time that I’ve ever been in such a highly compliant environment! So I keep crossing all my fingers that the rest of us will stay safe and healthy over the next few weeks. 

Can’t wait for things to get started in the morning! I will have an extremely long day, with a 5:30am wakeup call to head to the rink, and then the Opening Ceremony at night. I haven’t been able to make it much past 10 or 11pm any night, but here’s hoping that I’ll have plenty of adrenaline to keep me going!

~ Melanie