PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games

I’m not really a big sports person, but the one sporting event I do follow is the Olympics. When I was a growing up I remember checking the newspaper for the results and medal standings in the morning and watching the events on TV after school. I always thought it would be super cool to one day be able to go and check out the Olympics.

There’s just something magical about the passion and pride that goes into competing (and cheering) for your country.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I was applying to study in Korea, I remembered that they would be holding the Winter Olympics in 2018. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that I would graduate in the summer of 2017 so I’d miss the Olympics unless if I stayed longer or went back to Korea or something. That kinda sucked, but hey, that’s life I guess.

The Gangneung Olympic Cluster under construction in 2015.

I didn’t really want to go back to Korea so soon after leaving, but I knew that I wanted to visit my friends that still live there. That was the main point of the trip but the chance to go check out the Olympics was a huge bonus. So, I planned my trip to Korea and coordinated with some of my friends to go check out an Olympic hockey game as well. Finally, I had the opportunity to actually go to the Olympics for the very first time.

Every Olympics has their own set of problems and issues, and Korea is no exception to that rule. Leading up to the Olympics there was a lot of things that directly influenced the event. For example, there weren’t going to be any NHL players playing in the hockey tournament, Russia had the whole doping scandal going on so they couldn’t play as Russia, like everything about North Korea, and so on.

There was essentially a whole slew of drama and politics that really overshadowed much of the event itself so I didn’t really know what to expect from it. Regardless, me and four of my friends took an early train to PyeongChang on a Sunday morning to start our own Olympic adventure.

The Olympic Mascots by Jinbu Station.

I honestly already felt kinda excited from the moment we got off the train. The train station we got off at was called Jinbu station but they added in parenthesis “Olympic Station” and seeing that simple addition already made me feel kinda giddy.

I was actually going to be able to check out the Olympics!

We started the day by heading over to the Olympic Stadium. After going through security you walk out into this plaza where you are greeted by the flags of all the participating countries. That was a pretty cool moment. Of course, I had to look for the Canadian flag and it was also pretty neat to see the North Korean flag there too considering we were in South Korea.

The flags of the participating nations of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Aside from having the actual Olympic Stadium and Cauldron, the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza had a few stages for performances and a few other art exhibitions. There was of course, a merchandise store as well. That’s pretty much where we went to first and there was a ton of people inside. There was a lot of popup stores in Seoul selling Olympic merchandise but the store there was gigantic and was selling much more stuff.

Next, we checked out the Olympic Cauldron which was next to the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to go into the stadium but you could kinda just admire it from the outside and take pictures with the flame. It was a bit hard to see the fire so I feel like it was a bit of a wasted opportunity there, but regardless, it was cool to see.

The Olympic Cauldron with a tiny flame.

Oddly enough, the highlight of the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza was the art and technology exhibition they had. They had a bunch of cool looking installations you could check out and it was pretty awesome. I have no idea how any of that stuff was related to the Olympics, but hey, it was there and was interesting.

Afterwards we grabbed a quick lunch out in the city before taking a bus to the Gangneung Olympic Cluster. It’s weird because you’d imagine the PyeongChang cluster to be the main one but the Gangneung cluster actually had more things to check out and was the overall more atmospheric area. Our timing was pretty good too because as we were walking through the plaza we saw this random parade go by which was pretty neat.

Most of the major indoor sporting venues were there and so you had a lot more people there. A lot of the major sponsors had some representation there as well. For example, Coke had a giant “vending machine” you could go into and get some cool souvenirs (I went to the one in Hongdae), McDonald’s had some cool burger and fries shaped buildings, and so on.

A traditional Korean parade in front of a giant hockey stadium.

They even had a building talking about the next Olympics which is going to be held in Japan in 2020. That was really weird though since they had some weird scanner thing where you could scan yourself and see a projected cartoon version of yourself walking weirdly down a street. You could also even use some 1990s era camera technology to badly photoshop yourself onto a skateboard. That was weird.

After checking out as much as we could, we tried to get into Canada House since it was supposed to be open to public. Unfortunately I didn’t realize you had to buy tickets ahead of time so we couldn’t get in, but it ended up being alright cause we found this awesome restaurant somewhere else and got dinner there before the hockey game.

The Canada House I unfortunately could not get into.

Originally we wanted to watch a hockey game between Canada and South Korea but by the time we actually got train tickets that event was sold out so we ended up getting tickets for Finland vs Sweden instead. Before entering the hockey stadium we were given the choice of some free cheering tools. Some of my friends went for the Finnish flag but I thought that was weird so I got some Olympic branded face masks instead.

In hindsight that was also kinda weird.

Anyways, it was exciting because not only was this an Olympic hockey game, it was also my first real hockey game. I know, I’m a terrible Canadian who never actually went to a hockey game up until very recently.

Seconds before the puck drops in my first ever hockey game.

It was actually a really fun game. Sweden was obviously the better team but Finland put up a solid fight. Plus for some reason like 80% of the fans in the stadium were cheering for Finland and so there was some real hype in watching the underdogs play. Every time the Finns did something the stadium would go crazy. It was really awesome.

After the game we went back to the train station and took a late train back to Seoul. By the time I actually went to bed it was like 4 am and I was tired as hell but it was totally worth it.

After literal decades of just watching the festivities from afar, it was really surreal to actually be there. Once you’re actually there and standing in the Olympic venues, it’s really easy to just get lost in the moment and bask in the excitement and atmosphere that is the Olympics.

The Olympic Rings by Gangneung Station.

Korea doesn’t typically have a festive mood because they don’t really do decorations or festivities. Even with big holidays like Seollal and Christmas, Korea just kinda stays as grey and unexciting as it always does. The Olympics were different though.

They actually had a lot of decorations going around. Be it banners and posters featuring the athletes or mascots, or just flags of the world displayed along the road, it really did feel like the country was celebrating something. Plus, you saw a lot more foreigners on the streets and a lot of them were wearing symbols of their countries, which just added to the overall environment. I really appreciated that since that kind of festive atmosphere was something I thought the country sorely lacked throughout the three years I lived there for.

People keep saying the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Well, I’m hoping it’s not because I had a great time and it would be awesome to be able to go check out another one in the future.