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Jessica and I spent our final day in South Korea in Seoul.  One of the sites we wanted to make sure to see was Gyeongbokgung Palace. Located on the north side of the city it was the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. The Palace was originally constructed in 1395, however over the years many of the buildings have suffered damages that required reconstruction. We were surprised to see how expansive of an area the palace occupied, over 100 acres. We enjoyed walking the grounds learning about the various buildings and also seeing many young Koreans dressed in Hanbok, traditional Korean clothing. We agreed that Gyeongbokgung Palace is a must see for anyone visiting Seoul.

Before our time in PyeongChang came to an end we wanted to make sure to fit in a visit to House of Switzerland. This hospitality house is located at the bottom of the Yongpyong Resort ski hill. USA is next door and Sweden House is a short walk away. We did not have a chance to go inside where lunch was being served but instead spent some time on the outdoor patio. Many visitors we lounging in chairs watching the events on a big screen. We sipped hot chocolate and looked on from in front of a toasty fire pit. Beer, food and chocolate bars were also being served. Swiss House also boasts a small stage for live music and a miniature hockey rink!

On Saturday I headed up to the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre to watch the Men’s Finals of Big Air. This was Big Air’s Olympic debut and the event drew a huge crowd. I would say it was the most well-attended event that I had seen. I am curious to know if the fact that it was a Saturday drew more local spectators compared to other events. The excitement of the crowd only made the experience even more thrilling. However, I have to admit that while at the event I was slightly confused about the scoring. As it turns out, for the finals, each rider completes three runs. The worst score is dropped and best two scores are combined for a final score. Six judges score on four elements (difficultly, execution, amplitude and landing) and the highest and lowest score for each run is dropped. For me, it was an honor to witness the first-ever Big Air Olympic champions celebrate with each other at the close of the event. In the coming days it will be interesting to see how well the new event was received by the international community.

On Wednesday the USA men’s hockey team failed to secure a chance at the podium after losing in a shootout to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. This is the second consecutive Games that the team has not medaled after losing in the bronze medal game in Sochi. However, yesterday the USA women’s team beat Team Canada for the gold after a dramatic, 6 round shoutout. Some of us were there to witness their hard fought win and emotional post-game celebration. While most winter Olympians receive their medal at the Medal Ceremony the night of their event, hockey medals are awarded immediately after the game. Angela Ruggerio of the OIC (see my previous post) presented the medals, which must have been a truly special moment for her as she herself has earned 4 olympic medals.

This morning we had the opportunity to meet we three members of the IOC, each of whom serve in a different role. Angela Ruggerio is a senior member of the IOC and represents all Olympic athletes in her role as the chairperson of the IOC Athlete’s Commission. Angela is also a four time Olympic medalist with USA Hockey. Meeting with her was exceptional chance to learn more about the Games from several varying perspectives including: athlete, organizing, bidding and administrative. Angela is also an entrepreneur and founded her company, Sports Innovation Lab, a year and a half ago. Angela’s passion for the Olympics and sports in general was so apparent especially as she described the positive message the Games can send to the world, as well as the power of sport.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post about our visit to Jet Set Sports, the company’s Co-CEO, Alan Dizdarevik, generously gave our group tickets to the Men’s Free Skating. The event was categorized as high demand, and was by far the most well-attended event that I have been to. For American’s, there has been a lot of hype around Team USA’s Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, who both unfortunately fell short of medaling. However, it was still thrilling to be in attendance and witness of the world’s top figure skating talent. I was also ecstatic that we happened to see Al Roker, Hoda, and Savannah of The Today Show in the crowd and that they so graciously agreed to take a photo with us.

Today we had the opportunity to meet Alan Dizdarevic, Co-CEO of Jet Set Sports. Jet Set was founded in 1975 by Dizdarevic's father and is the official Olympics Authorized Ticket Reseller (ATR) for the United States. Alan showed us around their office here in Gangneung and along the way explained their operations for both their businesses: Co Sport (tickets for general customers) and Jet Set (ticket packages for high net worth individuals and corporations). Individuals who purchased tickets after December pick up their tickets at this location and as Dizdarevic described, "is where the Olympic experience begins" for many US ticket holders. As the ART for the US, Jet Set has the largest amount of Olympics tickets in the world. When asked what the hottest ticket is right now, Alan not only responded that it is Men's Figure Skating, but also offered our group some tickets!

Wednesday evening, I was leaving the Gangneung Hockey Arena at the end of my shift when I decided to swing by The Today Show set which is located right outside the arena. I found myself being in the right place at the exact right time as I realized as I approached the crowd that Shaun White was just coming on set for an interview.  Earlier in the day, White won his third gold medal in the men’s halfpipe, four years after coming in fourth in Sochi. The day before I had a shift at the Phoenix Snow Park where I had the opportunity to see White score a 98.5 on his second qualification run. During the finals on Tuesday, the majority of our group was at Casa Italia where we watched in awe as White, who was in second place before his final run, won gold. This was only a day after Chloe Kim, also of USA, secured the gold in ladies’ halfpipe. While White would not confirm during the interview whether we would see him on the halfpipe in Beijing in 2022, he did allude to the fact that skateboarding has been added as a Summer Olympics sport. Look out, Tokyo!

Also, be sure to check out my colleagues' posts about the Medal Ceremony which took place earlier in the evening at the Olympic Park!

On Friday evening, I attended the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Olympics. Not only did the Opening Ceremony mark the beginning of the Games but was also a celebration of Korean culture. The two-hour program was absolutely spectacular. According to the official PyeongChang 2018, “Opening Ceremony Director SONG Seung-hwan (KOR) expanded on his vision for the Ceremony. "The intention was to show the past, present and future of Korea," Song explained of the opening acts. "The inspiration was the murals of the Goguryeo Tombs, some of which are in North Korea, some in South Korea, displaying legendary animals and dancers.” Behind each seat was a short pole with LED lights which resulted in customized lighting effects. The dances were beautifully choreographed and the costumes were amazing. It was also exciting to watch Team USA march out in their $2,500 heated Ralph Lauren jackets to ‘Gangnam Style’. Prior to the commencement of the ceremony I noticed that the North Koreans had a section all to themselves and those seated there were all wearing the same outfit, waving North Korean flags and cheering in unison. The most moving part of the ceremony was when the North and South Koreans entered under the unified flag.  Overall, the ceremony sent a message of hope and peace and I feel very fortunate to have been able to witness it in person. (I am also thankful that it wasn’t as cold as it has been other evenings!)

We have arrived in PyeongChang! I flew to Seoul on Korean Air, an official partner of the Games. I took the opportunity to use some of the 14-hour flight to learn a little more about the various sports and events of the 35th Olympic Games. As part of the in-flight entertainment, Korean Air included short 10-15 minute Olympic sports informational videos which were narrated in Korean but included English subtitles. I was particularly glad to learn more about the rules of curling as that is one of the sports I am assigned to. (Who knew that curling stones weigh 38 to 44 pounds or that curlers wear special shoes with dissimilar soles, one slider and one gripper?!) I also learned about some of the new events of the PyeongChang games, including: mixed doubles curling, long-track speed skating mass start, mixed team alpine skiing and big air snowboarding. Additionally, the in-flight magazine included an overview of Korea's favorite olympic athletes. Korea’s speed-skating superstar Lee Sang-hwa is seeking her third gold medal in the women’s 500 meter. Sang-hwa, who is 28, is competing in her fourth Olympics. Another local favorite on the speed-skating track is Korea’s Lee Seunghoon. Seung-hoon unexpectedly won gold in Vancouver in the men’s 10,000 meter after Netherlands’ Swen Kramer was disqualified for an incorrect lane change. In addition to his gold medal, Seung-hoon has a silver in the 5,000 meter (Vancouver) and a silver in team pursuit (Sochi). I was also intrigued to learn that the men’s hockey coach is Korean-born Jim Paek, a former NHL player who has two Stanley cup rings from his time as a Pittsburg Penguin. Not only am I looking forward to following the Korean’s men’s hockey team, who are making their Olympic debut, but also the combined women’s hockey team from North and South Korea.