By J.A. Adande
If you want to see the Olympics, you’re better off watching at home on your HD flatscreen. The reason to take a 14-hour flight followed by a two-hour train ride in order to stand on a mountainside in single-digit temperatures is to hear the Olympics.
On Day 4, the first distinctive sound I heard was a squeal of delight from Chinese snowboarder Xuetong Cai after her third run down the halfpipe. She knew she wasn’t headed to the medal stand, but she’d finally done her best, drawing a score of 76.5 that was higher than the combined scores of her first two runs.
The opposite end of the Olympic experience could be heard in the heavy sigh of American Maddie Mastro as she walked through the media mixed zone. All these years of training and anticipation and she just didn’t have it on the big day; she fell down in each of her three runs.
Later came the ultimate extreme, the half-yell, half-grunt from Shaun White as he pumped his fist on his way to greeting friends and supporters after his spectacular second qualifying run. It was his way of announcing – to himself most of all – that he was back at the pinnacle of his sport.
At night came the loudest sound of all, the sonic wave that followed South Korea’s Kim Min Seok around the speedskating oval and helped propel him to a bronze medal.
These are the little details that can only be obtained through effort, be it taking a long bus ride or withstanding the elements. Television — with its closeups, slow-motion replays and ability to take you from venue to venue in an instant — provides a better picture of the Olympics. In-person experience enables you to tell a better story.
The sound of the Olympics includes the media availabilities, which can often be as entertaining and intriguing as the competition. On Day 4, the teenage American snowboarder Chloe Kim won the press conference in addition to the halfpipe gold medal, winning over media members at the same rapid rate she gained social media followers. Kim mused on everything from her favorite type of pizza to the technical tips for a successful halfpipe run. She pretended to sing Lady Gaga lyrics while the interpreter translated her response to a question about the music she listened to during competition. She was at her best when talking about her parents.
On her father: “I hate talking about my dad when he’s there, because he gets really cocky.”
On her mother: “My mom loves little parties at home. She’ll probably put together a party…right, Mom?” (Voice from the back of the room: “Yeah! Big party!”)
You never know what you’ll hear from these athletes. Speed skater Brian Hansen blamed his disappointing 15th-place finish in the 1500 meters on excessive eating before the race.
“Too much rice,” Hansen said.
The Olympics are grueling to cover. Long days with seemingly no respite. But you have to keep pushing and keep listening. One of our Medill graduate students here in Pyeongchang, Anna Kook, got a good lesson in persistence. She dragged herself to the women’s hockey venue at the end of a long day to talk to the unified Korean team, and took advantage of her ability to speak Korean to get the players talking about their intense desire to beat longtime political rival Japan. USA Today wound up running her story, and as she viewed it on their website she said, “This is surreal.”
Good things happen when you listen at the Olympics, and this happened to be a particularly great array of sounds. To use one more quote from Chloe Kim: “Today was fun.”