Published on February 21st, 2018 | by Katelijne Vermeulen
The super fans who made it to the Winter Olympics
Winter sports might not be very popular in Great Britain, but there are people who travelled from all over the world for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
I spent nine days in the host city Pyeongchang, meeting fans from around the globe who were there to cheer on their nations’ competitors in the 15 featured sports.
My first discovery was that the venues and facilities for the different events were quite a long way from each other, so people had to spend a long time travelling if they had tickets for a variety of events.
If you want to go from the Gnangneung Oval to the Phoenix Snow Park, where all the ski and snowboard event takes place, you have to get a train for 30 minutes and then a bus for another half an hour.
I found it was easier to stay close to the venue where I planned to spend the most time – the Gnangneung Oval – along with hundreds of my Dutch compatriots. Other nationalities opted to gather where their medal prospects were clustered.
The ski and snowboard sports are very popular with American and Canadian fans, so they mostly travelled high up in the mountains to the Phoenix Snow Park.
Americans Shaun White and Chloe Kim, both gold medal winners in the halfpipe snowboarding, are very popular with big personal followings.
The American chant of ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ rang out across the slopes, while some Canadian fans stood out by dressing up as beavers, their national animal.
The Netherlands dominate the speed skating events, so the Gnangneung Oval was filled every day with people dressed in bright orange.
Every time a Dutch skater took to the ice, the ‘Oranje’ contingent turned up the volume in the arena. They even brought their own oompah band from the Netherlands, and during the break you could hear all the fans celebrating medal successes and singing their Dutch songs.
The band ‘Kleintje Pils’ played songs everybody knows – they even wore their clogs.
It’s not that much fun for all the other countries to watch the speed skating at the Winter Olympics because seeing the Dutch take all the medals can get a little boring…
Given the fact that their nation was banned from competing as a team, it surprised me that there were a lot of Russian fans at the Games.
Then again, although the International Olympic Committee blocked competitors from representing Russia as a punishment for its widespread doping issues, around 170 Russians took part as neutrals.
Effectively, this Winter Olympics featured a large Russian team in all but name.
Another nation whose presence stood out was North Korea.
After a prolonged period of tension between North and South, the Games gave the two sides a chance to put their differences aside and compete together.
A sizeable delegation of athletes and government officials travelled to Pyeongchang to see the ice hockey game between Switzerland and United Korea.
North Korea also brought its own cheerleaders, who became a big hit on social media. They were easily recognisable with their red outfits and carefully choreographed songs and dance routines.
It reminded me of those clips you can find on the YouTube where North Korea celebrates the birthday of Kim Jong-un with thousands of people all marching with exact precision. Their cheerleading was the same and looked like a military operation.
It all looked nice and friendly on the outside, but the girls were watched at all times by North Korean monitors.
They were not allowed to speak to anyone and, apparently, when they get home are not permitted to talk about their experiences in the South.
Putting diplomacy aside, the Winter Games is, of course, all about the sport.
The United States, Canada and the Netherlands brought the most fans with them, and there were lots of Koreans at all the events.
The Olympics is an incredible spectacle, and it was amazing to be there. Hopefully, I’ll make it to Beijing in 2022…