101 pins: To give is better than to receive, apparently

A Pyeongchang, South Korea bus driver proudly displays his Olympic pin collection.
Joel Reichenberger

 Tracking the trading of 101 Steamboat Pilot & Today 2018 Winter Olympics lapel pins, well, it’s not been going well.

It’s not the tracking that’s been the problem. It’s the trading.

Turns out, trading isn’t my specialty, nor is going up to people who seem to be minding their own business to ask if they want to trade pins.

That’s not to say I haven’t been doing some good Steamboat Olympic pin distribution.

Our condo is seemingly the last one at the Bokwang Phoenix Snow Park, in the last building of the complex and in the last corner of that building. We take an elevator to the seventh floor, walk completely across the building, then take the stairs up to the eighth floor, where two more rooms await.

I gave our housekeeper a pin one day while I was working on a story, and she stopped by to change towels and straighten our beds. A few days later, she returned but had a second woman helping her, so I guess she deserves a pin, too.

I gave one to a bus driver, also. Sometimes, when covering the Olympics, it seems like you spend most of your life on a bus, and the buses here are something to see. The insides are often dark and red, but wildly colored decorations are on the ceiling from front to back.

There’s usually Wi-Fi, which is good for working, and there’s a large TV at the front that’s airing either Olympic events or, as far as I can tell, Korean cooking shows.

Anyway, I was at the front of the bus while we were waiting to leave, and the driver asked the guy across the aisle from me for a pin. He dug into his bag to find one.

Perfect, I thought. This guy has pins and is in the process of exchanging. I pulled one out for the bus driver, then asked the guy if he wanted to trade with me.


Oh, ok.

The bus driver, wearing a beanie covered with pins, was ecstatic, though. He gave me a cookie, tried to give me a bottle of water, then came back a minute later and made his phone translate a message to say, “Thank you very much. I really enjoy the pin.”

I saw him several days later. The Steamboat pin had earned a place right on the front of his hat.

I really dished them out Saturday night when I stumbled onto one of my favorites stories I’ve covered at an Olympics.

My event schedule here has been front loaded. In the first week of the Olympics, we had big-time events featuring medal hopefuls and true-blue Steamboaters like Jaelin Kauf, Arielle Gold and Mick Dierdorff, plus a Nordic combined race with three Steamboaters and several big ticket events I was to cover for other Swift Communications properties.

I went to Olympic events every day in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympics and I saw an American win one medal, and that was Hannah Kearney’s bronze in the women’s moguls. She wasn’t thrilled.

In South Korea, it feels like I’ve seen an American win a medal every time I’ve opened the condo door, which is a little weird considering the U.S. isn’t doing particularly well at these Games.

I was there for Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson’s snowboard slopestyle sweep, for Chloe Kim and Arielle Gold in the women’s halfpipe and for Shaun White in the men’s halfpipe.

My Olympics (and the Americans’ medal winning ways) hit a lull after that, however, and Saturday, there wasn’t anywhere I absolutely had to be.

So, I took a shot. I reached out to Steamboat Springs Olympian Johnny Spillane, who’s been broadcasting the Nordic combined and ski jumping events for NBC.

Last time we’d talked, he’d implored me to cover the men’s large hill ski jump competition, “one of the biggest events,” he’d said. There was no direct local connection, so I wasn’t ready to commit, but as it turned, out I was free on the day of that event.
I asked if I could sit in the booth with him, indicating I knew there was a slim chance he could help facilitate that.

He agreed. The chances were slim, but he’d ask.

Half an hour later, a miracle happened. He’d checked with his bosses, and I’d be allowed to watch the event’s trial round, so long as I was able to sneak past the South Korean security.

That’s not as big of a problem as it seems like it should be. Every aspect of the security in Russia was more significant. The buses were checked every time they left a stop and every time they arrived at one. Soldiers boarded every one and eyeballed every passenger.

Every time I thought about doing something stupid and/or impulsive, there was a security guard there to sternly tell me, “No!”

I’m not sure I’ve been told “No” about much of anything in Pyeongchang.

One example is the day I tried to take a bottle of Pepsi to the ski jumping venue. I wasn’t sure how this would go over considering Coca Cola’s Olympic-sized Olympics investment, but I’ve had my fair share of Coke and was ready for something different.

I wasn’t shocked when I got shut down. A young woman helping with the security at a screening checkpoint said I’d have to throw the Pepsi away.

I wasn’t thrilled, but moved on, until I got to the other side of the X-ray machine and she ran to catch up — with my Pepsi. She apologized profusely, sayimg she’d misunderstood a rule. Her supervisor came over to apologize, too.

Volunteers in Russia were polite and often as helpful as they could be, but they didn’t often fall all over themselves apologizing.

So, I wasn’t overly worried about the security at the NBC broadcast booth, but I prepared nonetheless, tucking my insufficient credential into my jacket, putting my head down and walking quickly to where I wanted to go.

Not only did a security guard not stop me, there wasn’t one there at all. I walked right up the stairs, found the NBC booth and waltzed in as if I’d been there 100 times.

“How’d you get in?” Spillane asked.

“One foot in front of the other.”

Beyond the lax security, I felt lucky to be there. I haven’t exactly seen a lot of stories with reporters embedded in an NBC booth, and I imagine if I tried to run such an idea through NBC public relations on Saturday, I’d be lucky to get approval in time for the 2022 Olympics.

My plan was to shut up, stay out of the way and see what happened. That worked well enough. Halfway through the trial round, Spillane said I had approval from his boss to stay for the whole event.

There were five in the booth, including Spillane. I liberally distributed pins after the gold medal had been decided with a “thank you for not kicking me out.” I dished out one more to the sideline reporter when I saw her a day later.

I may not be great at trading pins, but I’m not bad at using them.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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