by Bak Se-hwan
SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Even the icy chill of PyeongChang’s temperatures comes as no shock to cold sports athletes who have been training for years under freezing conditions, according to officials of teams from abroad just a day before the February 9 opening ceremony.
“I think we’ll be okay for the Olympics as well as at the opening ceremony. We’re strong and the weather is not problematic,” John Van Vliet, press attache for Dutch athletes told The Korea Herald.
“We’ve got very good heated clothing here, and the PyeongChang Organizing Committee has done a great work to keep us warm and comfortable (at the Gangneung athlete village),” Van Vliet added.
“A total of 11 athletes out of 33 from our team will be definitely attending the ceremony, although our short track and speed skating team won’t come because they have competitions in the weekend, and not because of the cold weather for sure.”
Dipping down to minus 20 degrees Celsius at night in Gangwon Province recently, where the Olympic and Paralympic Games are to take place until March 18, frigid conditions here have set the organizing committee on edge amid worries of athletes’ low turnout at PyeongChang’s open-air Olympic stadium.
And the Korean Meteorological Administration predicted a rise in temperatures Friday, hovering from minus 5 C to minus 2 at night, which is certainly above normal for this time of year. Wind chill, however, is estimated to remain bitterly cold at minus 10 C.
Japanese athletes are using “a special set of equipment and clothing” as part of efforts to fight the frigid temperatures throughout the Games.
“We expected that it would be this cold before our athletes came here, so we made visits two times earlier this year to check the weather,” says public relations manager Hiroshi Takeuchi for Japan.
“The new apartment here at the Olympic village is comfortable, functional and very warm. We’ve also brought a special set of equipment and clothing to keep our body warm, so it would be no problem for our athletes to cope with the weather at the Olympic stadium,” Hiroshi said.
“A lot of us are looking forward to attending the ceremony, although some are not attending due to training schedule and competitions the next day.”
But some of the 2,925 athletes from 92 participating countries are taking the cold threat seriously, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Sadie Bjornsen, a cross-country skier on Team USA was quoted as saying “We’ve been told that there’s going to be a warm area that we can stand in” at the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony and “after it’s over it’s about getting back on the bus as quickly as possible.”
Another official from the PyeongChang Organizing Committee said on the condition of anonymity that it has “growing concerns over the low turnout due to the cold weather” both among Olympic athletes, officials and spectators.
“During these conditions, hypothermia and frostbite are likely to occur especially when they have to sit there for hours,” the official said.
To calm the worries, organizers will be providing hand warmers, foot hot packs, heated seat cushion and ski hats to combat the cold, according to the committee.
The committee is also unofficially offering free admission for 17,000 Olympic volunteers to some ski jumping and curling events to fill stadiums amid worries of low turnout.
But for Australian athletes, cold weather presents no challenges to the athletes, according to Julie Dunstan who works as press attache stationed in PyeongChang.
“It’s what they do for living, to fight the cold and win the games.”