Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Follow along as Paula Moltzan shares with us her first Olympic experience. Paula was one of several WCDF athletes representing the USA in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
With uncertainty and trepidation, we took our last covid test before arriving at our hotel in Zurich. There we had 36 hours to organize and get all the supplies we needed for the 3 weeks in China. With the “closed-loop” system during the games, there was no chance to leave the “bubble” which consisted of the Olympic village and the two staff hotels 30 minutes down the road. As we crossed the last tasks off the list and then received our QR health codes to enter China, which verified we had all our negative covid tests it was time to head to the airport.
The mountain of ski bags with skis models for all the possible snow conditions headed off with the staff and the athletes went to the airport. What we thought may be a tricky and unordinary check-in process couldn’t have been any easier and that’s when we realized the travel wouldn’t be so bad. The travel on Swiss air to Beijing was easy, upon arrival in the empty airport we went through security and took a covid test. The largest airport in the world, desolate besides the hundreds of workers in full hazmat suits was a spectacle. We gathered our bags as quickly as possible and headed on a slow bus ride to the Olympic village.
Confused with jetlag and staring out the windows at the empty 6 lane highways we eventually made our way into the mountains and arrived at the village. Moving into our rooms was a bit hectic, but a fun process to receive our bags containing the Olympic uniforms. Olympic village accommodations are nothing glorious, quite like a freshman dorm room at college. Tight confines to say the least with your roommates and a crazy amount of gear! We got used to it though.
Technology in the village was talked about a lot leading up to the games by the USOPC as well as the media, citing burner phones, computers, etc. I brought an old phone that had been completely wiped before leaving to ensure no sensitive data could be taken and used the wifi that was throughout the village, connecting while my VPN was on. The wifi coverage was decent and even was up on the ski hill near the finishes of the race venues. I didn’t open my computer the whole time I was there but used my iPad to watch shows and write emails. We were able to facetime with friends and family without issue to give them a sense of what it was like there which was fun.
Life in the village was much smoother than most of us anticipated leading up to the games, wearing kn-95 masks everywhere was required, along with a daily covid test, but the staff couldn’t have been more friendly. Every worker you saw smiled, waved, and said hello to you. If you had a question they would find someone who could help right away. Almost everyone wanted to trade pins, the workers had a variety of Chinese pins and then all the other athletes wanted to trade as well. I came away with quite the collection of pins from different countries. Something that will be a cool memory down the road.
The dining hall felt like college, with the addition of dividers between every seat, think of a voting booth. This was a bit strange, but we got used to it. They had a lot of different foods, from the Asian section with dumplings, fried rice, and noodles, to a salad bar with fresh vegetables and a section with pasta. The best was the fresh fruit they had; did you know China is the leading exporter of Cantaloupe? I didn’t either, but one thing I can confirm is how sweet and flavorful it is when it's fresh! The food became monotonous, but once again it was better than we had anticipated it being.
Now for the important bit that we went there for, SKIING!! It was wild seeing mountains with no snow in such cold weather. During the 20 days that we were there, it only went above freezing a few times. It was normal for the temperature to vary between -15 and -25 Celsius in the mornings up on the mountain. Freezing cold dry air and then you hoped there would be no wind. The wind was brutally cold some days, but Spyder helped the athletes out tremendously making some custom heated shorts for training. Hand warmers inside of the speed suits were common to try and get a little more warmth!
After riding a very long gondola, from the village, you arrived at the finish of the speed track. From there we took another gondola before getting on a chairlift to the tech venue. The hills were all really well prepared and most were fully in the sunshine so there was great visibility and sometimes the sun provided some nice warmth! The snow was like the western United States very dry, but with the water that they added to the hill, it was hard and compact. The conditions turned out to be challenging for some brands of equipment, but I was happy that I had a great setup from Rossignol that worked.
In the GS, my first Olympic race, there were certainly a lot of nerves but I was happy with my skiing in both runs. Some mistakes and some very fast sections led me to a 12th place finish. In slalom my plan was to attack as best I could and take advantage of the rhythmical course set first run. I was very happy with my first run and gave it all I had second run as well, a couple of small mistakes in key sections set me back time-wise and I ended up in 8th place. After a long break in the action (9 days waiting) we were racing in the team event. The first day we waited around in the freezing cold and extreme wind to see the race be canceled. The next day brought less wind so the race went on. I was proud of what we did as a team to end up in 4th place. Of course, that hurts a little bit but I’m confident moving forward that we will have a very strong team for parallel!
Many people at the Olympics focus on the “could haves” or the “what ifs”. Sure, I could have potentially moved onto the podium in Slalom if I didn’t make the mistakes, but I didn’t get hung up on that. I gave it all I had in every race so I walked away smiling. My Olympic experience was as amazing as I imagined it would be since the day I began dreaming of it when I was 3 years old. Making so many new friends from other countries was incredible and to race at an event with the whole world watching was something special. What many thought would be a tough and uncomfortable trip turned out to be an incredible experience. The workers in China that helped put on the games could not have been nicer- they did a great job navigating the craziness of covid. I would have loved to see and walk on The Great Wall, I guess that’s how they may get me to go back...