SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Korea Bizwire) — Around 35,000 spectators are expected to attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony out in the cold at the roofless PyeongChang Olympic Stadium this Friday, with officials scrambling to ensure that those present are as comfortable as possible.
With sub-zero temperatures continuing to grip most of the country amid a severe cold snap, the roofless design of the main stadium is keeping the organizing body on its toes with only three more days to go before the Winter Olympics kicks off.
During a press conference today, Lee Hee-beom, the president of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee, addressed the issue, saying, “Though the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies is roofless, windbreak fences and heaters will be installed, and hot food will be available for purchase, to help spectators withstand the frigid weather.”
When pressed further by the media, Lee said he is banking on current weather forecasts that predict temperatures will rise slightly later this week, with plans to distribute cushions, blankets, hats and even hot packs to keep sports fans warm on Friday.
A Roofless Stadium
The main PyeongChang Olympic Stadium does not have a roof, despite being located in one of the coldest regions in South Korea, an area known for its biting wind.
Plans for a domed stadium with roof were scrapped in 2014 when organizers balked at the additional 70 billion won expense.
The temporary venue’s short-lived fate – it will only be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics – helped tip the scale in favor of a more affordable option.
During the mock opening ceremony last Saturday, temperatures dropped to minus 14 degrees Celsius at night, with the wind chill temperature plunging to minus 22 degrees Celsius, with many bundled up in parkas with their face covered with a hat and a scarf, fueling concerns over the frigid weather’s impact on the opening ceremony.
Cold Weather the ‘Biggest Challenge’ Facing the PyeongChang Olympics
Despite security concerns over the volatile neighbor north of the border, cold weather appears to be the biggest challenge facing athletes and officials at the PyeongChang Olympics.
Alexia Arisarah Schenkel from Thailand, who will compete in Alpine Skiing, says the weather feels like she is in a survival camp.
“I feel like I’m freezing. This is unthinkable in my hometown in Thailand. I didn’t think this level of coldness was even possible,” Schenkel said while laughing.
Staff members of the Brazilian bobsleigh team also said the weather in PyeongChang was extremely cold, drawing comparisons with Brazil where temperatures rise all the way up to 35 degrees Celsius.
Overwhelmed by the cold weather, some athletes are opting out of attending the opening ceremony.
Speaking to AFP, Pete Wardell, New Zealand’s Chef de Mission, said it’s still a big ask to have athletes standing outside and then sitting for at least an hour and a half in the cold, adding “Quite a few (Kiwi athletes) may decide they don’t want to march, particularly those competing really soon after.”
Adding to the pressure on the organizers is the high-profile guest list including President Moon Jae-in, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Ivanka Trump, the daughter of and an advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, some of whom will be watching the opening and closing ceremonies at the roofless stadium.
Though foreign guests will be seated in VIP seats in an indoor area, similar to luxury suites at baseball stadiums, President Moon and President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach will be standing in the cold welcoming each and every country, putting officials on alert.
“The president’s face can’t be covered when the opening ceremony is broadcast around the world, and we are worried about what he will wear to cover his ears,” one official from the presidential office said while speaking to Yonhap News.
The PyeongChang Olympics is projected to be held in the coldest weather since the 1994 Winter Olympics held in Lillehammer, Norway.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)