Hannah Halvorsen is a member of the Davis U.S. Cross Country Ski Team and a first-time Olympian; we asked her for a behind-the-scenes look at her experience here so far.
For most of my life, I have been one of the many children who wanted to become an Olympian. I thought everything about the Games was so cool. I loved how Olympians got to travel to a different country and join up with athletes from all over. I liked how they got to wear cool uniforms. I liked how they lived in an athlete village. I liked to imagine them traveling over on the plane. Simply put, I was a major fan.
It’s pretty crazy how quickly myself—and, I’d think, a lot of other first-time Olympians—can go from Olympic fans to actual Olympians. It makes the entire experience oscillate between fantastic and powerful to completely surreal. I know that these Winter Games in Beijing are particularly unique, given the global pandemic, but since it is my first Olympics, I don’t have anything to compare them to. So, although we are under strict rules to mitigate the possibility of Covid, I’ve been finding the whole experience to be quite magical. And if you want to hear the truth from a newly added team member, I’ve felt no shortness of emotions here—from very high to very low—but more on that later.
First off, let’s talk about the village. Three different competition zones are spread out among Beijing and two other locations and each has its own village for athletes. The cross-country skiers are in Zhangjiakou, a three-hour bus ride from Beijing. The ski venue is about 20 minutes away from our village, and we take a bus to get to it. On the ride we pass some of the other venues like the biathlon stadium and the ski jumps.
The village is part of a closed-loop system so no one from the outside can accidentally bring in Covid. We are tested every day and strong measures inside are taken to keep things extra safe, like protective plastic boxes around each seat in the dining hall. We also have to wear an N95 or a Kn95 mask at all times. That said, these measures help make the village feel safe, so I appreciate the rules and their enforcement.
Each country has its own apartment complex within the village and we cross country skiers room together in a few apartments. The apartments are spacious which gives us plenty of room for our stuff; each also has a microwave, electric kettle and TVs. I share my apartment with Sophia Laukli and Caitlin Patterson.
Team USA has made a lot of effort to make us feel as comfortable as possible. All U.S. athletes have access to our own team room with snacks, games and a TV. I have watched a lot of the other Olympics events there along with the ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes. Team USA also provided us all with bikes to ride around the village, which is a great commuting tool but also a fun way to explore.
The dining hall offers a large variety of cultural options: lots of Asian dishes; a section with pasta, bread and cheese; an assortment of desserts and even an in-house KFC and Pizza Hut. I have tried a lot of different cuisines and haven’t found anything I don’t like yet.
Another thing I love about village life is trading my U.S. pins with athletes from other countries. I am trying to get as many different pins as possible—so far, I have more than 40. I also love the small yet endearing interactions that come with trading pins and have met some incredible people from all over the world who are also thrilled to be here competing for their countries. These moments really do feel full of the Olympic spirit.
One of my all-time favorite activities so far was going to the medal ceremony for Jessie Diggins the night after she won the first-ever women’s individual Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. China put on a show, with music and colorful flashing lights, and just the most incredible and special energy. When Jessie got up on the stage to accept her medal, I teared up with pride.
As I indicated earlier, there is no shortness of emotions at the Games. I’ve written about some of my favorite moments here, but there has also been a lot of heartbreak during this journey. Each team gets only four starting spots per race, so with each one, a few athletes don’t make the cut to ski. This is always a hard position to be in, but especially on this high-profile stage. When jogging in the village or skiing on the trails, I have talked with athletes from other countries who, like me, have also not gotten starts they really hoped for. There is perspective in those tears. Athletes are beyond grateful and astounded to be here, but they still feel the pain of so closely missing out on an opportunity to race.
It is a challenging, yet beautiful and special, experience to be here and I am still finding new little moments of joy each day. Obviously, being on the start line of the sprint in my Olympic debut was unforgettable; but less predictable moments, like playing board games with my teammates or trading for a pin I didn’t think I would be able to secure have been equally special. I have a realization in these moments that goes something like, “Woah, I am currently creating a memory that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.”