Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018: How Athletes Are Braving Subzero Cold

These conditions require much more than a hat and gloves.


Today at the opening ceremony, elite athletes from around the world kicked off the 2018 Winter Olympics to K-Pop and freezing temperatures. The temperature at the night-time festival, taking place in chilly Pyeongchang, South Korea, measured in at 31 degrees Fahrenheit but felt like a blisteringly cold 25 degrees. While the athletes representing Bermuda still rocked shorts and Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua kept up his Olympic tradition of walking out oiled-up and shirtless, that is still very cold.

It’s the type of cold both spectators and athletes will have to be smartly prepared for throughout the games. While the number of people who attended the opening ceremony hasn’t been released yet, the stadium, which rests at about a half-mile above the Sea of Japan, was designed for 35,000. That means that Games committee has to be prepared to keep 35,000 warm and well, an effort that became more pressing after a November trial run of the Olympic stadium — which does not have a roof — resulted in seven people developing hypothermia. That happened when the temperature was an average of 37 degrees Celsius — warmer than it will be at these games.

In an attempt to keep audience members safe from the cold, everyone attending the opening ceremony was given a bag with a windbreaker, a lap blanket, a knit cap, hand and feet warmers, and a heated seat cushion. The stadium was also modified to have corner windscreens, 18 heated rest areas, and 40 gas heaters between the aisles. All of that still wasn’t enough to keep audience members from walking out during the rehearsal for the ceremony on Saturday, when a wind chill factor of 7 degrees below zero wasn’t enough to keep people on their feet.

Staying warm in cold and dry Pyeongchang — its average high in February is 31 degrees and its average low is 13 degrees — is an important challenge for this year’s attendees. While the colder weather will be good for playing sports (last year’s games in Sochi, Russia were warm to the point of complaint), it doesn’t bode well for people waiting out in the cold. Hypothermia is often something that happens gradually after prolonged exposure to a cold environment. Specifically, it occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, leading your internal temperature to drop to 96 degrees Fahrenheit (a healty temperature hovers at 98.6 degrees).

The important thing for people attending the games is that they protect their core, where the vital organs live. If you insulate your core with layers — in turn, trapping air that creates toasty dead air space — you’ll stay much warmer. For maximum warmth, experts recommend four layers: a thermal base layer, a mid-layer fleece, a jacket, and then a waterproof shell. The ideal base layers are made of moisture-resistant wool and polyester — moisture makes you wet, which makes you cold. Mittens are the warmer choice over gloves, and a hat is always essential.

Humans aren’t the only things at risk of cold-induced injury these Olympic games: Technology has to be carefully watched as well. The New York Times reported Thursday that wires used to rig the equipment at the outdoor venues were becoming brittle and easily snapped in the cold, while workers had to be careful to not step on and break any frozen cables on the ground. Things will be less stressful during the indoor-arena sport events, which will take place in the slightly warmer city of Gangneung.

And if you missed the live-stream of the Olympics this morning, no worries, NBC will be re-airing the event. As for the rest of the games, there’s a bunch of other streaming and cable options for you to enjoy.

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