Wednesday, Feb. 2nd:
🏂 The Winter Olympics are being held across three main zones in China with the bulk of the venues located here in the big city while the sliding, skiing, and snowboarding events are held up in the mountains.
We started hearing about a bullet train as soon as we arrived, which apparently takes just 50 minutes to get from Beijing to the farthest venues ... which certainly beats a three-or-more hour bus ride. The problem with this bullet train is the only way you can access tickets is by signing up for an account on a Chinese website and then booking tickets through its app - neither of which have English language options. With a little help from some people who speak the language, I was able to sign up and grab a ticket to and from the mountains. The tickets are free for journalists which is cool.
I teamed up with Jason Guinter, who is the technical lead for our small team within the giant NBC operation at these Olympics. He’s also the only other person from NBC 7 here in Beijing. We grabbed a car from the International Broadcast Center (IBC) which took us to the station. We sat in the back seat separated from the driver by a big clear sheet of plastic. There were also rules posted which said to avoid opening the windows unless it was an emergency. I’m guessing having the windows down would compromise the “closed loop system” which is designed to keep foreigners separated from locals.
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The autonomous bullet train is fairly new and was built specifically for these Winter Olympics. An Associated Press article from several years back quoted the price tag at more than $9 billion dollars. We scanned QR codes on our phones and entered the giant train station through a special Olympics “closed loop” entrance. The trains are cool looking and apparently can reach 217 miles per hour top speed. We whizzed out of Beijing and up the mountain through tunnels and by large wind turbines and solar farms.
During our train ride we fired up a “Live U" backpack, which is basically a small transmitter with eight SIM cards that can get us live in San Diego with about two-second delay. We led the 11 p.m. newscast with a live report from a moving train and didn’t lose our signal even as we went through long tunnels. Technology is truly amazing. I’m not sure viewers at home were as "geeked out" as we were by the smooth live shot half a world away on a moving train, but we were pumped to have pulled it off.
The mountains are obviously colder than the city and my fingers felt like they were going to fall off as we walked around in the areas set aside for journalists in the “closed loop” (getting sick of that terminology yet?) system. I’m hopeful to get to meet up in person with Seamus O’Connor in the mountains soon. He is a snowboarder from Ramona competing in his 3rd Olympics for Ireland. We texted back and forth a bit and he’s open to an in-person interview, which is hard to find with athletes at these games. As for Team USA Olympians, you have to go through several channels and get a few more Oks to meet up with them pre competition, so they’re typically a little harder to pin down.
The competition starts tomorrow and then we have opening ceremony after that … so just like today’s train, these Olympics are about to speed up fast.