101 pins: Raiding the media center
February 10, 2018
Here at the Olympics you really get a chance to see how other media outlets operate, certainly a lot more of a chance than you do just checking in online from afar.
Frequently, even a reporter from a small chain of papers in the Rocky Mountains will be presented basically the same building blocks for a story, the same viewing position, the same results, the same quotes, and to me, that's the great challenge of covering the Olympics.
A reporter from a small chain of papers in the Rocky Mountains doesn't always have the same opportunities as, say, John Branch, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times. Certainly, there are advantages. Steamboat Springs is a town that's a magnet for interesting people with compelling life stories, and they're often just in the middle of that life, ready next to tackle some of the biggest challenges in the world of sport.
I've written about a guy whose goal was to cross-country ski to the South Pole and a young woman who's striving to climb the Seven Summits, just to name a very few, and they're right here, every day.
Of course, there are advantages to working for the New York Times. I interview climbers and ask what it was like. They flew Branch to India and Nepal, then hired a Sherpa to climb nearly to the summit of Mount Everest all for one story.
It wasn't any old story, not by a long shot, but one of the best pieces of sports and outdoors writing I've ever read: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/18/sports/everest-deaths.html.
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But, the point remains. At the Olympics, many things are equal.
One small thing that's not is office space.
It's hard to sum up where one "works" while at the Olympics, but the nerve system of it all is unquestionably the Main Press Center, the MPC, a 45-minute bus ride from our eighth-floor digs at Bowang Phoenix Park.
Many of the events we're here to cover actually take place at Bokwang. All the freestyle skiing is there, meaning it's just about a 15 minute walk to be in position to cover Jaelin Kauf in the moguls. The vast majority of the snowboaring is there, too, and there are several places there to work. There's a small tent structure meant for post-event press conferences right off the moguls venue that offers chairs, a few tables and Wi-Fi. When we're trying to beat deadline from Bokwang — the paper's deadline is 2 p.m. in Korea, which still boggles my mind — that's where we're doing it from.
Down the slope and about 400 yards away there's a much larger tent filled with tables and chairs and a small cafe, and when we're reporting more in depth from Bokwang, that's the spot.
But, the heartbeat of the Olympics for a reporter is the MPC. There are TVs at either end of every line of tables, broadcasting every Olympic event that's happening. There's a more firmly established restaurant, and a better cafe and a concession stand.
There are reporters and photographers there working at all hours of the day. It's always deadline somewhere, right?
The big dogs, however, have offices to themselves. The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Associated Press, Getty Images, Reuters, they are set up in more private facilities in the building next door to the MPC.
A day before Olympic events were to begin, we invaded looking for pins.
We actually invaded to visit the United States Olympic Committee office and pick up tickets for Opening Ceremonies, but our quest quickly became one for pins as we left. Ed Stoner, my Vail-based reporting companion helping track and report on all the athletes from Swift Communications markets — 55 athletes — struck up a conversation with a pin collector in the lobby, a couple, the man an American and the woman a Canadian.
I'd brought five pins for the day, and I'd already traded two, pins No. 6 and No. 7, to Ed in exchange for pins he'd received doubles of.
I had three entering the building, but the pinheads in the lobby didn't seem impressed.
"Where ya from?" the man asked pointedly.
He didn't ask to trade with me.
"Ah," he said. "I've seen those pins floating around."
That seemed unlikely. The vast majority of the Steamboat pins were back in Steamboat, sold out in a matter of days to eager fans in Ski Town USA. A few were sent with Olympic-bound athletes Bryan Fletcher and Jaelin Kauf when they came to town for the Olympic sendoff, but Kauf's arrived late. She forgot them in the whirlwind of packing, but her mom brought them several days later.
I still had the Steamboat pin market cornered, whether he knew it or not.
The couple had already scoured the building and knew which organizations had pins to give away and did so freely, which ones were stingy and which ones were out. He laid out a plan of attack for us including Getty Images, Reuters, the British Olympic team office and a group from Tokyo shilling for the 2020 Olympics.
What we found did something to deflate the idea than pins are the be-all, end-all souvenir of the Olympics.
We wandered from office to office like children roaming the neighborhood on Halloween. Someone knew what we wanted as soon as we walked in and typically at least played along, though often without much dedication. A guy from Getty gave me a handful of pins. He seem stunned when I actually gave him one back, No. 8.
At Reuters, we were directed to a big plastic bowl filled with pins. I told you it was like Halloween. A guy reached in and flopped some on the table, then walked away. I grabbed two, then left one, No. 9, though I'm sure he didn't notice.
We were on our way out when we ran into the man himself, John Branch, and we offered to trade pins.
He had one New York Times pin for each of us.
It's small and rectangular. It features the New York Times name big, which makes sense if you're the New York Times. It doesn't feature any ski jumpers, which is always a bit of a letdown. I guess that budget went to a trip to India?
Either way, I got a good trade and he got pin No. 10.