Melanie’s #OlympicBlog – Time & Staying the Path

Time goes by very quickly at the Olympics! It’s hard to believe that my trip is already past the halfway mark. I’m missing my husband and my little girl quite a bit, but I’m still having a great time and still feeling very lucky to be here.

That feeling was incredibly prominent during the men’s event! There were so many great skates, and it was amazing to have a front-row seat to see Nathan Chen not only live up to expectations, but also have a great time doing so. I haven’t ever seen him skate with so much freedom, and I’m so happy for him that he was able to have that experience at the Olympics. The other medalists, Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama, were also wonderful to watch, and I have so much respect for Jason Brown. People were screaming that he wouldn’t be competitive here without multiple quads, and he finished sixth (just a hair from fourth, honestly!) and gave us a master class in choreography, interpretation, and pure skating in both programs. What a journey he has had. It reminds me of the value in staying on your path.

Speaking of staying on one’s path, can I shout it out for Josée Piché and Pascal Denis? They partnered up in 1987 and dreamed of going to the Olympics. While they had a long and successful career as Canadian National team members, they often finished just off the world and Olympic teams by one or two placements. Now coaching with the Ice Academy of Montréal, they are finally at the Olympics together after 35 years! 

I’m not sure about the athletes and coaches, but we’re definitely staying on our path in the media area. Danielle and I went to the Big Air venue this week and saw the men’s freeski final. We prioritized breakfast and mistimed the bus connection, so we arrived just as the event was about to begin, and when we asked for directions to the photo positions, we were sent into a maze of gates and barriers, and a circuitous path about 3 feet wide that led us through the venue and then around the back of the stands, where we had to climb about 3 flights of slightly rickety stairs to get to the photo positions. My watch asked me if I was working out as we were heading up there. So when we finally sat down, we started peeling off layers and enjoyed the action at an outdoor event at the Winter Olympics wearing just light sweaters. Truly wild. Also the action was wild! I had never photographed a freestyle ski (or snowboard) event and was blown away by the amplitude of the complicated tricks. And from a lower vantage, you lose the athlete as they ski onto the kicker for their jump, and shooting with a long lens, it’s tough to find the athlete in the air as they start flipping and twisting. I definitely missed more than a few shots, but I also got a lot of cool stuff, too! Really fun to be able to experience something different, and to put myself in the position of the photographers who walk into the figure skating event looking totally lost. (For the record, I am always happy to help a newbie.)

It’s also struck me that many of the other events at the Olympics are quite short, compared to skating. Many of the skating events are 4-5 hours long, and we find that typical, even “short” compared to a long day with multiple events back-to-back, which is what we see at most skating competitions. But we were at Big Air for only an hour! Twelve skiers did three runs each, and it only took an hour! We also went to short track last night, and it was done in less than three hours. The women raced the 1000m and did quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals all within that time period. It was fast-paced and very intense.

Perhaps that’s why the venues have very limited food options. On days with skating competitions, we have had to skip both breakfast and lunch. The media lounges are all sponsored by Coca-Cola, and they have Costa Coffee latte machines, so I usually buy a flat white as soon as we get to the rink, and then I grab some crackers and an orange. After the event ends in the early afternoon, we get a container of instant noodles in the media lounge. There are two kinds, a tomato flavor and a spicy beef. The tomato flavor has actual tiny pieces of vegetables (maybe zucchini?), and I’m not much of a beef eater, so I prefer the tomato one.

We usually stay at the rink for a while to avoid having to ride an overcrowded bus back to the Main Media Centre (MMC), but the workroom at the rink is quite cold—even colder than the rink itself—so once our fingers are frozen, Danielle and I head back on the bus. The MMC is cold and drafty in the hallways, but the Main Press Centre workroom (MPC) is nice and warm, as long as someone doesn’t leave the door open. We always try to pick a seat in the front half of the room, away from the doors, but so does everyone else, and we arrive late in the day, so we don’t always get a choice seat. The MPC has two big screen TVs showing the most “important” competitions, and a smaller flat screen at the end of each row of tables. Volunteers monitor the TVs and change the channel when an event ends, and you can always make a specific request, especially if the people sitting around you all agree and want to watch the same event. It’s hard to work and follow the events without any audio at the same time, but we’ve managed to catch some key Olympic moments in the MPC, which is nice. I was worried that I would go through these entire Games and not know anything that happened outside of figure skating.

Around 6 or 6:30pm (or as long as our growling stomachs can take it), we usually head to the dining hall in the MMC. If you turn right when you enter, there are two cafeteria-style counters. The food is made and portioned out already, so it’s very quick. There’s a Western menu and a Chinese menu. Both have veggies available, so sometimes I’ll get a bowl of veggies or a soup to go with my meal, but I don’t usually get a main course from here. There’s a smaller cooler area where you can get things like premade sandwiches and salads, but they don’t look super appealing, and I haven’t tried them. You can also get a full wheel of Brie or Camembert cheese, and there are croissants in the cafeteria, so I did try that one time. The texture of the Camembert was way more dense than it should be, so once was enough for me, but the croissant was surprisingly pretty decent—better than the croissants that our breakfast buffet at the hotel occasionally has.

In the next two rooms, there are different stations of made-to-order meals, mostly made by robots. I’m sure that many of you have seen videos from various media outlets. The station that delivers food to your table from the ceiling is still quite popular, and wait times really vary. One night, Danielle and I ordered at the same time, and her meal came in less than 10 minutes, but mine took over 20. I like the fried rice from this station pretty well. You can also get vegetables here, but they are quite salty.

I often order from the dumpling station. They make one kind each day, and usually have the same kind two days in a row. I like the mushroom and cabbage dumplings best, but they are all a little soggy, and the texture kind of gets to me after a few days in a row, so I don’t get them every single day. At the dumpling station and the hot pot station next to it, you can see your order number on a screen, along with the time until your order is ready, so that’s nice. I’ll often order dumplings and then go get something else before coming back to pick up my dumplings.

In the last room, there’s a “snack” station that makes deep-fried things like fries, chicken nuggets, and spring rolls. There’s also a burger station (have not had those) and a clay pot rice station. The clay pot rice is pretty good, but the meat that comes with it is hard to eat. The bar area is in the last room, and it’s fun to watch the robots shake cocktails. I got a coconut & pineapple cocktail on our first night here, and it was pretty good, but I usually just grab a water or a beer (or both!) from the counter next to the robot bar.

The dining hall is pretty convenient and much cheaper than I expected it would be, and I’m glad we have it as an option, but after a couple of weeks, it’s getting harder to find something I feel like eating. Our hotel restaurant isn’t very good, but we’ve heard that some of the other hotels in the bubble have really nice restaurants, so we might try to venture out to a new spot tomorrow (the day between the RD and FD).

When we do get breakfast, our hotel’s breakfast buffet is quite decent, with a lot of different kinds of options. I usually get a fried egg, fried rice, pork dumplings, some sort of bread, a steamed sweet potato, sometimes a bao with red bean paste, a spring roll when they have it, and a cappuccino from the espresso machine. The espresso machine at the hotel isn’t as good as the Costa ones in the media lounges, but it’s good enough. It was unfortunately out of service for a few days, but the good folks at our hotel got it up and running again today, and I am deeply grateful.

With that, I’ll get back to work on photo editing. I already am buried under a mountain of photos to sort, but it’s a nice problem to have! I’ll get to relive my Olympic memories all year long as I keep discovering more folders full of image files.

~ Melanie