PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—The 2018 Winter Olympics officially begin with Friday’s Opening Ceremony, and in a sharp departure from recent tradition, it’s going to be cold. Very, very cold.
Weird, huh? Cold at the Winter Olympics? Who could have seen that coming? Truth is, though, that recent Winter Olympics haven’t exactly set records for chill; both Sochi, Russia and Vancouver, Canada struggled to deliver that basic cost-of-entry element for Winter Games: snow.
That’s not a problem in PyeongChang. Snow — the real, natural stuff, straight from the sky — blankets the mountains. The concern at this point is for spectators. Specifically, those forced to sit in one location for an extended period of time. Even more specifically, those spectators who will be attending the Opening Ceremony at the open-air PyeongChang Stadium.
The festivities will begin at 8 p.m. Korean time, 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and will run for about two hours. More than 35,000 fans are expected to attend the ceremony, held at the newly constructed (and very temporary) stadium. The facility is open to the air, which means winds whistling down the Korean Peninsula will run straight into the stadium.
The possibility for threatening weather conditions at the Opening Ceremony has loomed for months, and on Sunday, organizers’ fears ratcheted up another five notches. Temperatures during a rehearsal were six degrees Fahrenheit, with wind chill diving to seven degrees below zero. Audience members walked out, and ATMs froze up. A stadium half-full of frozen Olympic fans wouldn’t exactly play well with the eyes of the world watching.
But there’s good news. Forecasts have warmed considerably in the last few days; temps are now projected at right around 32 degrees for the duration of the Opening Ceremony, with winds of about 5 miles per hour. Compared to the single-digit temperatures and knife-slice winds of the last few days, it’ll be practically tropical as the nations of the world march into PyeongChang Stadium.
Still, the Olympic organizers are taking no chances. Ticket-holders will get an entire cold-fighting arsenal, including a windbreaker, a blanket, a knit cap, a heated seat cushion, and hand and foot warmers. The pentagonal stadium now has windscreens installed on each of its corners, and 18 heated rest areas and 40 portable gas heaters will be in play.
The Ceremony itself should be must-watch for any Olympic fan, with classic patriotic pageantry and a historic unification of North and South Korea. And now, it seems the fans in the stadium might be able to enjoy it as much as the folks back home.
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