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The PyeongChang diaries: the elation of skiathlon

Charlotte Kalla of Sweden leads the pack during the Ladies Cross Country Skiing 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon on day one of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Alpensia Cross-Country Centre on February 10, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
by Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, AIPS Young Reporter, Nigeria

PYEONGCHANG, February 10, 2018 -There was a special feeling that enveloped me on Saturday evening at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre as Charlotte Kalla skied past the finish line to claim the first gold medal of PyeongChang 2018. This feeling of 'being there' is one a TV screen can never give even if as in this case, the cold is not kind.

I used to wonder how spectators follow a skiing event so religiously especially when the skiers, the main actors, are out of sight only to return when they need to take another lap or cross the finish line. "Boring" I thought.

Of course I know there is the big screen to reveal those unseen moments. So why buy a ticket when I could get an even better view while I watch on TV from the warmth of my home?

Well, I was at a skiing event on Saturday and I enjoyed every bit of it save for the part where my colleague Rayane Mousallem and I had to walk for about an hour in search of the press tribune. Language barrier was our worst nightmare as we were being tossed from one end to the other by volunteers who probably did not understand our question.

It was so frustrating that we took a break at some point and decided to seat anywhere. But we resumed the search when the owners of the seats came with their tickets. We finally settled when we insisted that a volunteer take us to the press tribune instead of giving us another direction that could turn out like a bounced cheque.

So here is how I enjoyed my evening of Cross-Country Skiing (Ladies 15km Skiathlon) which happened to be a medal event too - one that went on to produce the most decorated female Winter Olympian, Marit Bjorgen.

Spectators were treated to a fanfare before, during and after the competition. Before the event started at 4:15pm, there was an Olympic trivia segment; where questions about the Olympics were asked to two persons and a winner emerged. Another interesting fun moment was the 'Kiss Cam'; where couples that were randomly caught on camera had to kiss for all to see on the big screen - some declined though.

Then there was the entertainment show which featured K-pop acts who sang and thrilled the fans, after which the Games mascot Soohorang danced alongside some cheerleaders. During the skiing event, the commentator was super lively and entertaining such that everyone had their eyes glued to the big screen when the skiers ventured into the mountains. At intervals, he called on spectators to "make some noise!"

I watched most of the action standing because the battle for first place was intense and really close until the final stages when Charlotte Kalla broke away. In the first 7.5km, the classical technique (a straight-forward movement) was used while the freestyle (which allowed for sideways movement of the ski) was used in the final 7.5km.

After the event, there was still some time for 'Gangnam Style'. The female host of the entertainment show caught up with some Swedish fans at the stadium and they danced to the song in celebration of their gold.

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