Backstory: Overcoming extreme cold and broadcast restrictions to cover the Winter Olympics – News coverage


The ABC sent a team of four to cover the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — journalists Mary Gearin and Ben Lisson and camera operators Steve Wang and Matt Roberts — who battled extreme cold and strict filming restrictions.

Yes, it was cold.

The Winter Olympics are meant to be cold.

But this was the coldest Games since Lillehammer in 1994 and pre-Olympic headlines were saying things such as: “Will PyeongChang be too cold for a Winter Games?” (BBC), “2018 Winter Olympics Could Be The Coldest in 24 Years.” (Time).

The altitude of the area is not that high, but it’s the Earth’s coldest region at that latitude.

Luckily, we had time to prepare — some of us stocked up on warm jackets, thermals, gloves and boots during the Boxing Day sales.

On the ground, there wasn’t actually much reason for us to be outdoors for long periods of time, other than waiting for shuttle buses or watching an event.

Lisson and I braved the outdoors for roughly 20 minutes early one morning for a live cross into News Breakfast and then realised that our apartment balcony provided a perfect backdrop for future attempts when it was too cold to be outside.

Protecting the gear

Surprisingly, the equipment held up really well in the cold.

There was some concern pre-trip that camera batteries wouldn’t last too long, but they were fine.

The only real problem was using smartphones.

One of my biggest challenges was trying to find a glove that was thin enough to let me operate the camera, but thick enough to keep my finger tips warm.

I settled on a double glove combo, first putting on a thin pair with “phone-tapping fingers” and then adding a fleece mitten over the top which had a retractable part allowing finger access.

Funnily enough, the indoor heat was equally as troubling.

After rugging up for a stint outdoors, the de-layering upon moving indoors was an unglamorous artform that took a while to master.

Getting around

We were staying in a couple of two bedroom apartments in Bokwang.

It was a great base due to the close proximity of the Australian medal chances.

Out our backdoor was the Phoenix Snowpark, where the moguls, aerials, halfpipe, slopestyle and ski/board cross events were held.

Bokwang was about a 45 minute shuttle bus ride to Alpensia, where the International Broadcast Centre and Main Press Centre was, as well as other venues that hosted the ski jumping and sliding sports.

A 90-minute shuttle bus took us to the “coastal cluster” in Gangneung, where all the stadium events were held (figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey, curling).

While some routes had shuttles running every 15 minutes, depending on the time of day that could blow out to an hour and travelling between Gangneung and our Bokwang base after 8pm stretched to two hours.

Not ideal when you’re trying to get home after a late-night event.

Broadcast restrictions

Our media accreditation allowed us access to most events, but we weren’t allowed to film within the Olympic zone.

There are very strict rules that non-rights holding media companies must follow or risk severe penalties.

The rules apply to how much Olympic material you can use and when, not just for TV, but radio and online too.

Any breach is taken very seriously.

Official medal parties were held the night after medals were won.

Where possible, we shot feature stories not affected by the rights restrictions, such as a yarn on the intense trade in Olympic pins.

The local curling-obsessed television coverage meant we needed to find a way to monitor Australians in action in other events.

Thankfully, the amazing South Korean internet speeds came to the party and allowed us to stream Australia’s Channel 7 coverage via a VPN.

Incredible advertised ethernet internet speeds of 1gbps were put to the test in the Main Press Centre (MPC), but a speed check later revealed it was about 600mbps.

WiFi speeds were slower but still up around a slick 200mbps.

It was a tight-knit bunch of Australians at the Games — not many who were just spectators, mostly athletes’ families and friends, with some AOC and media teams thrown in.

Mary and Steve departed at the end of week one, leaving Ben and I to cover the final week.

It gave us the chance to shed some light on some of the lesser known athletes and sports and allowed us to work on a couple of feature stories for the 7pm News bulletins.

Then it was home to thaw out.

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