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Overcoming extreme cold and broadcast restrictions to cover the Winter Olympics

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The ABC sent a team of four to cover the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — journalists Mary Gearin and Ben Lisson and camera operators Steve Wang and Matt Roberts — who battled extreme cold and strict filming restrictions.

Yes, it was cold.

The Winter Olympics are meant to be cold.

But this was the coldest Games since Lillehammer in 1994 and pre-Olympic headlines were saying things such as: "Will PyeongChang be too cold for a Winter Games?" (BBC), "2018 Winter Olympics Could Be The Coldest in 24 Years." (Time).

The altitude of the area is not that high, but it's the Earth's coldest region at that latitude.

On arrival in Pyeongchang, the sight of wind turbines on surrounding hills suggested it wasn't just going to be just single-digit or below-zero temps that were going to be a challenge, but the constant frigid wind, which sent the apparent temperature well into the minus 20s.

Luckily, we had time to prepare — some of us stocked up on warm jackets, thermals, gloves and boots during the Boxing Day sales.

On the ground, there wasn't actually much reason for us to be outdoors for long periods of time, other than waiting for shuttle buses or watching an event.

Journalist Ben Lisson rugged up against the cold for a cross.

Ben Lisson in coat and beanie talking to camera with snowy background.

Journalist Ben Lisson rugged up against the cold for a cross.

ABC News: Ben Lisson

Lisson and I braved the outdoors for roughly 20 minutes early one morning for a live cross into News Breakfast and then realised that our apartment balcony provided a perfect backdrop for future attempts when it was too cold to be outside.

Ben Lisson on balcony outside as cameraman shoots from inside wearing shorts and singlet.

The apartment balcony had a view which was a perfect backdrop for crosses and meant the cameraman could stay warm inside!

Ben Lisson on balcony outside as cameraman shoots from inside wearing shorts and singlet.

The apartment balcony had a view which was a perfect backdrop for crosses and meant the cameraman could stay warm inside!

Protecting the gear

Surprisingly, the equipment held up really well in the cold.

There was some concern pre-trip that camera batteries wouldn't last too long, but they were fine.

Matt Roberts holding camera with silly look on his face as snow comes down around him.

Cameraman Matt Roberts bracing against the cold and snow in Pyeongchang.

Matt Roberts holding camera with silly look on his face as snow comes down around him.

Cameraman Matt Roberts bracing against the cold and snow in Pyeongchang.

The only real problem was using smartphones.

Not long after removing one from its toasty position next to a hand-warmer in a pocket, the battery would often die very quickly out in the elements, regardless of how much the device was charged.

One of my biggest challenges was trying to find a glove that was thin enough to let me operate the camera, but thick enough to keep my finger tips warm.

I settled on a double glove combo, first putting on a thin pair with "phone-tapping fingers" and then adding a fleece mitten over the top which had a retractable part allowing finger access.

Matt in coat editing on laptop sitting on bench in snow.

Matt Roberts editing on the fly with frozen fingers.

Matt in coat editing on laptop sitting on bench in snow.

Matt Roberts editing on the fly with frozen fingers.

ABC News: Ben Lisson

Funnily enough, the indoor heat was equally as troubling.

After rugging up for a stint outdoors, the de-layering upon moving indoors was an unglamorous artform that took a while to master.

Getting around

We were staying in a couple of two bedroom apartments in Bokwang.

It was a great base due to the close proximity of the Australian medal chances.

Out our backdoor was the Phoenix Snowpark, where the moguls, aerials, halfpipe, slopestyle and ski/board cross events were held.

Bokwang was about a 45 minute shuttle bus ride to Alpensia, where the International Broadcast Centre and Main Press Centre was, as well as other venues that hosted the ski jumping and sliding sports.

Inside bus with purple seats, tassles on window edges and toilet roll hanging from hand rail on roof.

Inside an elaborately decorated shuttle bus complete with emergency toilet roll.

Inside bus with purple seats, tassles on window edges and toilet roll hanging from hand rail on roof.

Inside an elaborately decorated shuttle bus complete with emergency toilet roll.

A 90-minute shuttle bus took us to the "coastal cluster" in Gangneung, where all the stadium events were held (figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey, curling).

While some routes had shuttles running every 15 minutes, depending on the time of day that could blow out to an hour and travelling between Gangneung and our Bokwang base after 8pm stretched to two hours.

Not ideal when you're trying to get home after a late-night event.

Broadcast restrictions

Our media accreditation allowed us access to most events, but we weren't allowed to film within the Olympic zone.

Due to the ABC not having the broadcast rights, we were very limited as to what we could shoot and broadcast.

There are very strict rules that non-rights holding media companies must follow or risk severe penalties.

The rules apply to how much Olympic material you can use and when, not just for TV, but radio and online too.

Any breach is taken very seriously.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) would organise press conferences after most Australian events and we'd gather outside the Olympic zone to catch interviews with athletes.

Official medal parties were held the night after medals were won.

Where possible, we shot feature stories not affected by the rights restrictions, such as a yarn on the intense trade in Olympic pins.

The local curling-obsessed television coverage meant we needed to find a way to monitor Australians in action in other events.

Thankfully, the amazing South Korean internet speeds came to the party and allowed us to stream Australia's Channel 7 coverage via a VPN.

Incredible advertised ethernet internet speeds of 1gbps were put to the test in the Main Press Centre (MPC), but a speed check later revealed it was about 600mbps.

WiFi speeds were slower but still up around a slick 200mbps.

Matt Roberts and Ben Lisson standing next to snowman wearing ABC hat and with ABC News microphone as nose.

Ben Lisson and Matt Roberts promoting the ABC while in Pyeongchang.

Matt Roberts and Ben Lisson standing next to snowman wearing ABC hat and with ABC News microphone as nose.

Ben Lisson and Matt Roberts promoting the ABC while in Pyeongchang.

It was a tight-knit bunch of Australians at the Games — not many who were just spectators, mostly athletes' families and friends, with some AOC and media teams thrown in.

Mary and Steve departed at the end of week one, leaving Ben and I to cover the final week.

It gave us the chance to shed some light on some of the lesser known athletes and sports and allowed us to work on a couple of feature stories for the 7pm News bulletins.

Then it was home to thaw out.

Original Article

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