PYEONGCHANG, February 10, 2018 - On the 15th of January 2018, I got my best birthday gift yet in a gold-coloured envelope. The International Sports Press Association (AIPS) surprised me most pleasantly. The Association hosted me, as a young reporter on duty, on my birthday in Italy, a unique celebration. That, however, was not the end of it.
This simple envelope, with my name at the back, was not bloated so it was hard to tell what was inside. Grinning from ear to ear, I opened it and brought out a white sheet of paper which was folded in half. Aloud, I read the content.
Boom! I was going to cover the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games! I screamed and leaped for joy. I simply couldn’t contain my excitement. In slow motion: was this real? It was! And I had the proof!
So, here I am, typing from the comfort of my bed in the Gangneung Media Village, after travelling for about 16 hours and over 7,000 miles from Nigeria, while my glove-free hands shrink. I can still smell the countless fragrances that filled my nose at the Abu Dhabi International Airport as I searched for the boarding gate for my connecting flight to Seoul.
I never lost sight of the purpose of my trip – PyeongChang 2018, the main reason and purpose of my trip as a journalist. The idea of the Games captivated me, launching this new path in my career in the best way possible and making every second count.
Even if I have always dreamt of covering an Olympic Games, I did not imagine doing so in -12 degrees weather conditions: heat is the mainstay in Nigeria after all. But I love these kind of challenges. They can only make me a better person and a better sports journalist.
On arrival at the Incheon International Airport, I got past immigration successfully and submitted the forms I had filled in the aircraft. I found my way to Gangneung Media Village. My first task was to find the PyeongChang 2018 information desk which I eventually did after a back and forth movement. In any case I must commend the organising committee of the ongoing Winter Olympics because the spirit of the games totally consumes one from the airport. When I got to information desk I showed them my printed documents and without a hassle I was issued a train ticket to Gangneung such that even my suitcase had a seat. The volunteers were so welcoming and they led me to the point where all I just needed to do was board the train when it arrived. I began to feel the cold on my face.
In this train which was designated for the Winter Olympics I was the only one in Car 4. A conductor later came to keep me company but all the while it felt like he was never there. I could still hear my own thoughts as I fed my eyes with the Korean view during the two-hour ride. I saw beautiful bridges, a Museum, hanoks and really tall buildings but more significantly, I saw snow for the first time in my life. Not in a photo or on TV but through a window. It was scattered on the ground among dried-looking tall trees.
As soon as I alighted from the train it was not difficult locating a volunteer this time. I saw one who was already leading a fellow journalist to where she wanted to go and when I told him my destination he just told me to follow them. Soon, we got into different cabs that took us to our destinations.
The volunteer that drove me explained that his English was not so good and I understood. He had a beautiful smile after all. So, we didn’t talk a lot and when he needed to, he spoke with the aid of an app that interpreted his words to English and I understood. But when I alighted, I did not fail to use my favourite Korean word "gomabseubnida."
So here I am at the Gangneung Media Village and I am super impressed at the nicely furnished room I checked into with access to top-notch Wi-Fi.
Let me spare you the details of a night messed up by the difference in time zone. I woke up fine nonetheless, to the day I touched snow for the first time. It was beautiful. It felt smooth and cold as I rubbed it between my fingers and the I scooped some into my palm. When I let it all go, I was left with a moist palm.
Then came the moment of truth at the PyeongChang 2018 opening ceremony, which was held at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, in freezing conditions. I was dressed for the occasion and so my face took most of the hit from wind. I could have turned red-faced if I were light-skinned.
At some point I had to take off my gloves because I can barely do anything with them on. Oh my word! That was the height of it. My numb fingers could not curl into my palm and the hot pack set we were given at the stadium could not help. Well, I'm glad I survived and I was live at the stadium to see Nigeria's first ever parade at the Winter Olympics with Ngozi Onwumere as our flag bearer.