What, Me Worry? Preparing to Spend Two Weeks at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang

Spending two weeks under the eye of a madman? As far as Olympic assignments go, that’s nothing.
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One fun way to depress yourself is to imagine what people will say when you die. I believe I am prominent enough (senior writer for an old-media brand), and young enough that if I am struck by a missile while covering the Olympics, I will have the privilege of having my entire life condensed into a single paragraph in The New York Times. I hope I don’t sound like I’m bragging.

I can picture the subhead now:

Michael Rosenberg, 43; Died While Watching the Luge

People have been warning me for months that I may meet my end in PyeongChang, South Korea. They don’t come out and say “YOU WILL DIE.” That would be rude. They just ask if I have life insurance. Sometimes they hold their hands up and make explosion sounds with their mouths. After all, the Olympics will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, which—this may not surprise you—is just south of North Korea, which is ruled by supreme leader and nuclear missile-wielding madman Kim Jong-un.

Leaders are like tacos: If they’re good, you don’t have to call them supreme. I am not worried, though, because I know how this works. Every Olympics I’ve been to is supposed to be a catastrophe in some way, and they generally turn out to be great.

Before my first Olympics, in Athens in 2004, everybody worried about chemical-weapons attacks. When I landed in Greece, my employer at the time, Knight-Ridder, gave us extensive training on how to use gas masks. Obviously, this was before newspaper chains realized that reporters dying en masse is cost-efficient. People were also concerned because Greece was bankrupt and did not start building the Olympic Stadium until people were in line to get in. But we survived. 

The 2008 Olympics in Beijing were supposed to be an environmental catastrophe marred by athletes getting arrested for upsetting the government. For all I know, that did happen. I couldn’t see anything through the smog. But we survived.

When I arrived in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, I was warned about “black widow” suicide bombers, though nobody told me what to do about them. I considered asking everybody I met if they had seen any black widow suicide bombers, or, you know, any suicide bombers, but there was a language barrier. The Sochi Games also brought concerns that Russia might videotape members of the media in the shower. I was just relieved that reporters were bathing. You can’t really count on that at an Olympics.

And of course, before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics we worried that swarms of mosquitos would infect us all with the Zika virus, which would have worried me if I saw a single mosquito in Brazil. I did not. We were also worried about ISIS. When we left, we were still worried about ISIS. But we survived.

Pre-Olympic panic is as much a part of the Games as skiers who fly into the air to pursue their dream of not landing on their head. Writers who cover the Olympics tend to fall into two camps: Those who are terrified that the world will end, and those who hope it happens before they have to write about ice dancing. There are prisoners on death row who are more optimistic than sportswriters heading to the Olympics.

Of course, after all this worrying about PyeongChang, we are now being told not to worry. North Korea just announced that it will field a joint Olympic team with South Korea. Military experts agree that, while Kim Jong-Un is clearly a lunatic determined to obliterate the entire Western hemisphere, he would never take out his own short track skating team.