The sun was about to come up and I hadn’t slept a second. My mind was still operating in overdrive.
Did that just happen?
I kept asking that question. Lying in bed, in the early morning of my final day in Pyeongchang one year ago, the events of the previous 80 hours pinballed around my sleep-deprived noggin.
Minnesota had just conquered the Winter Olympics. There was Lindsey Vonn … and Jessie Diggins … and the women’s hockey team … and John Shuster and the curlers.
One major story after the next, coming in rapid-fire. A front-row seat left me delirious by the end.
Covering the Olympics is always a unique experience. The days are long. Sleep is minimal. You eat unhealthy “meals” at weird hours (my go-to dinner in Pyeongchang: beef jerky and Pringles).
Each day’s a blur of bus rides, covering events, writing stories, interviewing athletes, more bus rides, more events, until you look at your phone and it’s 3 a.m. and you realize you have to be up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus to the mountain venues.
It’s equal part exhilarating and exhausting.
The final few days in Pyeongchang last February were a double shot of exhilarating. Especially from a Minnesota perspective.
My colleague, Rachel Blount, and I knew our schedules would be extra busy the second week of competition. We had no idea it would become a wave of excitement — there and back home — that swelled with each passing day.
It started on Wednesday. I covered Vonn’s final Olympic race in the mountains while Rachel prepared to cover Diggins’ sprint race in her quest to become — along with teammate Kikkan Randall — the first American woman in Olympic history to medal in cross-country skiing.
Vonn’s dream of a storybook ending to her Olympic career didn’t materialize. But she still took bronze in the downhill, becoming at age 33 the oldest woman to win an Olympic Alpine medal.
Later that night, I was in the media center watching Diggins’ race on TV monitors. A medal looked assured entering the final lap, but Diggins had too much ground to make up to win gold except …
Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!
Her final push was astonishing. She passed the leader and then stretched her ski forward with one last lunge. She made history in the most epic way.
A few hours later, I called Diggins’ father, Clay, for an interview. It was difficult to hear him over shouts of joy and celebration in the background. Rachel pulled an all-nighter putting that moment into words.
The U.S. women’s hockey team, dominated by Minnesotans on the roster and coaching staff, took center stage the next day. Another showdown against Canada, winner of four consecutive gold medals. Canada had owned the Olympics since losing to the Americans in the 1998 gold medal game.
Their rivalry is one of the best in sports. Always close, always intense, always exciting. The teams don’t like each other.
They provided another classic — a thrill ride that required three periods, one overtime and a shootout to decide. Team USA won 3-2, ending 20 years of heartbreak.
The celebration on the ice was like the grand finale of a fireworks show. The Americans cut it loose and their emotions poured out. They did victory laps with the flag. Springsteen played over the sound system.
I e-mailed my editors with a request: Clear the decks. My fingertips were on fire typing that column.
Drama continued two days later with the curling gold medal match. Amazingly, Team USA was still alive under the leadership of Minnesota’s Shuster, the maligned skipper.
Shuster had finished 10th in Vancouver, ninth in Sochi. The curling community mocked him. USA Curling didn’t invite him to a high-performance program after Sochi.
Shuster started 2-4 in Pyeongchang, and another flameout seemed inevitable. But something crazy happened. His team won a match. Then another. The snowball rolled right into the final against Sweden.
I sat with Shuster’s parents in Team USA’s cheering section. The fans were a hoot. It was a party. And the crowd went bonkers when Shuster scored five points on an epic double takeout shot to win gold.
I took a video of Shuster’s 4-year-old son, Luke, who said, “We’ve been hoping for this, and we wanted to win a gold medal and it’s true now.”
I e-mailed my editors with another request: Clear the decks.
I wrote into the wee hours, then tried to sleep. No chance.
I had no more events to cover. I was coming home the next day. I lay there in the darkness, mind racing, body almost numb. I realized I had witnessed something truly special.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com