PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA–Yesterday I arrived in PyeongChang as a part of the Team Great Britain Ambition Programme. My skating partner, Lewis Gibson, and I, along with four other British athletes and two officials, were selected by the British Olympic Association to experience the 2018 Winter Olympics in preparation for Beijing 2022.
We are staying here for six jam-packed days before heading back home to London. Team GB provided us with an enormous bag filled with the official PyeongChang kit that we get to wear with pride, which I opened like a little kid ripping open their highly anticipated Christmas present. This bag contained everything imaginable: from snow boots to sunglasses to an amazingly chic and impressive hoodie that I have lived in ever since I got it. Wearing this kit attracts an incredible amount of attention as we march around the Olympic Park with other athletes from people who ask for pictures, autographs and, most importantly, to trade pins.
Pin trading is taken seriously in the Olympic environment. On my first day here, I have collected a Colombia pin, a Japanese ice skating pin, the official PyeongChang Coca-Cola pin as well as a USA hockey pin from Vancouver 2010. I am definitely taking pin trading up as my new hobby. Today I gave my apparently very rare and desirable British PyeongChang pin to a man who has attended 13 Olympics and parades around with a suitcase full of his collection.
On our first night, after touring around the Alpine Village like zombies from our 11-hour flight and three-hour bus ride, I had my very first Korean cuisine for dinner. Then we headed back to our accommodation and hung out in the GB lounge, which is open to family and friends, and cheered on our British women’s curling team (I am also Canadian so I get the obsession). Our room is surprisingly spacious and I was met with a Team GB stuffed animal and bathrobe on my bed upon arrival (both of which I will be smuggling back to London).
I share the room with another Ambition athlete (she does the skeleton) and we have had a great time so far. I am in the Team GB HQ apartment, which I share with a few other officials. It is decorated with Union Jack carpets, blankets and bunting so it is all very patriotic. We often gather in the living area to cheer on our British athletes whenever it is on TV. Cheers erupt constantly, many high fives are exchanged and the general atmosphere is incredibly welcoming and encouraging.
Today, Lewis and I woke up at the crack of dawn to do our own workout before taking the shuttle to the coast where the Gangneung Olympic Park is located to watch the ice skating short program. As I entered the ice arena, I caught my breath. My eyes welled up with tears.
I have always imagined being in an Olympic arena, amongst all of the rings and the unexplainable energy that each and every spectator, cameraperson, judge, coach and athlete can feel. I actually had to remind myself to focus on every detail as I couldn’t quite fathom the fact that I was at the Olympics–as an athlete. I was overcome with a larger desire than ever before to attend Beijing 2022 as a competing athlete. My dream felt so tangible and I am now hungry and motivated to make it a reality, to make my way from an awestruck spectator to a poised and proud Olympian.
The crowd was wild and the support that they gave every single athlete, no matter what country they represented, was admirable and lovely to witness. And observing how the athletes dealt with the pressure of being at the Olympics was fantastic. Some thrived, some cracked; it was intriguing to think about the immense pressure that being at the Olympics creates and how it can affect performance. My favorite part was seeing the look of complete and utter joy on the faces of the athletes competing as they had hoped they would, and watching the camera panned in on their giddy, glossy-eyed faces.
I would say Yuzuru Hanyu’s reaction touched me specifically because he had to take most of the season out due to an unfortunate injury. We had no idea how he would do going into this event but he skated two flawless performances and ended up bringing home the gold for Japan. The pride that he and others must have felt is indescribable and something that I am dreaming to feel myself in four years’ time if I am lucky enough to represent my country in Beijing.
What was even more emotional, though, was seeing my friends –including Jorik Hendrickx, Deniss Vasiljevs and bronze medalist Javier Fernandez– achieve their dreams and their uncontainable excitement as they gazed around the arena following their performances. I think it is very different watching the Olympics as a fellow ice skater as opposed to a fan because I know exactly what they have been through to get to this moment. They have worked for hours and months and years, enduring failure, injury, frustration and heartbreak over and over again and here they are. They are now Olympians.
I feel privileged to be able to witness a monumental moment for my fellow skaters. I know that no matter what struggles I face in the next four years if I keep working hard with this vision in mind, I will be able to have this moment as well. Being in South Korea is allowing me to experience what a TV screen could never communicate. All of those emotions, conversations, smiles, pin-trading, and I have only been to one event so far. I can only imagine what the next few days have in store. We will be attending many more events, including skeleton, ski jumping and curling.
Tomorrow we are going to tour the athlete village to get a taste for the accommodation, comfort and logistics where the competitors call home for 18 days. I am also thrilled to be visiting the famous dining hall as I have only heard stories of the endless buffet and the enormity of the space. It will be amazing to eat among so many Olympians and I am sure many selfies will be taken, as pins will be traded. I have already been star struck twice in one day, having met one of my favorite female figure skaters, Ashley Wagner and having seen Gus Kenworthy the American skier. It makes those early mornings practices all seem more than worth it.
Lilah Fear is a British/Canadian figure skater (who represents Team GB) who graduated from high school in London in 2017. She is a food enthusiast, secret coloratura soprano and has plans to learn as many languages as possible—she currently studies French, Italian and Spanish, and hopes to learn a bit of Mandarin.
Photos 1 and 2, Lilah Fear; photo 3, LIlah and Lewish compete in Ostrava, Czech Republic in 2017. Jaroslav Ozana/CTK Photo/Alamy Live News