PYEONGCHANG, South Korea
A 25-hour travel day on zero minutes of sleep after covering one of the wackiest Super Bowls on record tends to make a person a little loopy.
But I have arrived at the Winter Olympics and can proclaim with a great deal of confidence that Nick Foles nailed it to win the gold medal in the LII Games.
Wait, scratch that. Forgive me. The body clock remains in recovery mode from a dastardly combination of sleep deprivation and 15-hour time zone change.
The time difference between here and the Central time zone will make things a little tricky in terms of coverage and viewing, but I had an ingenious plan to keep my brain from short-circuiting while trying to subtract 15 hours in my head all day long.
I’m a traditionalist. I still like looking at my watch to tell time. For reasons unexplained, my watch occasionally takes a siesta and gets a little behind my iPhone time, but I refuse to give up on my watch.
To combat my remedial math skills, I bought a $10 digital watch off Amazon and I’m wearing two watches: one set to South Korea time and one to Central time.
I was feeling pretty proud until my colleague Rachel Blount, a veteran of 11 Olympic Games, showed me her Fossil watch that displays two time zones on one watch.
Now I feel like a dope.
Alas, the Opening Ceremony is Friday so here’s a Cliffs Notes version: NHL players aren’t allowed to participate, the North Koreans are, and the Russians were quasi-invited.
The NHL hated the two-week disruption to the schedule and risk of injury to star players so it pulled the plug on the Olympics. Too bad, because watching T.J. Oshie put on an epic display in a marathon shootout against Russia was a highlight of the Sochi Games four years ago.
The women’s hockey tournament features one new entry — host South Korea — which was a compelling story anyway but started drawing international interest after North Korea agreed to send a small delegation of athletes to the Games, some of them being added to South Korea’s women’s hockey team in a last-minute deal.
Many Russian athletes won’t be here after being banned by the International Olympic Committee in response to a doping scandal. Those who are competing won’t be officially recognized other than to be identified as an “Olympic athlete from Russia.”
The role of politics, financial corruption and cheating in Olympic Games often dominates headlines, but individual stories of athletes who compete in relative obscurity make the event the cool spectacle that it is.
The vast majority don’t do it for wealth or fame. Jeff Isaacson is a former two-time Olympic curler from northern Minnesota whose “real” job at the time was as a middle school science teacher. In preparation for Sochi, his curling team once carpooled to a competition in Saskatoon, Minn., with a camper in tow, stopping at a campground along the way to save on expenses.
The Olympics produce many similar stories of sacrifice and devotion out of the spotlight. These athletes get one shot every four years to make their mark on the biggest stage, then return to their relative obscurity.
In that sense, this week has provided me a glimpse of two extremes. From covering one of the world’s most famous athletes (Tom Brady) in the Super Bowl to writing about athletes who could stroll down Times Square and not be stopped for an autograph.
Sure, there will be big names here — Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White certainly enjoy celebrity status — but fun comes in learning backstories of athletes who pop up with a race of their life to win a medal.
South Korea seems well-prepared for the circus arriving. Volunteers at every turn go out of their way to help visitors and make them feel welcomed.
Everyone is so polite that wearing two watches on the same wrist is certain to draw compliments, not snickers.