International

Medaling, Outside The Olympic Arena

The Winter Olympics are in full swing in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Opening ceremonies took place Friday night, local time (early Friday morning for the U.S.) as athletes and spectators from 92 nations came together to kick off the two-and-a-half-week Games. Events will continue through Feb. 25.

The winners and losers of various sporting contests, from snowboarding to ice hockey to team figure skating, have yet to be determined (see the full schedule here). But behind the scenes, it is already clear who is winning and losing at this widely anticipated global event.

Winner: Digital Payments

Visa teamed up with South Korean-based Lotte Card, the financial arm of the region’s retail giant Lotte Department Store, to create three exclusive wearables just for the Winter Olympics: a commemorative sticker, a pair of gloves and an Olympic pin. All three are equipped with near-field communication (NFC) technology, enabling them to power payments for the wearer.

These connected devices are guaranteed to be popular among both athletes and spectators. With temperatures in the single digits and wind chills below zero in the days leading up to the Games, it was so cold that ATMs weren’t even working – so for those who didn’t bring cash, the Internet of Things may have been the only way to buy a hot drink to warm up.

Meanwhile, Samsung is powering the custom mobile application in an effort to ensure smarter communications and smoother wireless operations during the Olympic Games. The Official App of PyeongChang 2018 will reportedly help fans better enjoy the Olympic Winter Games experience by offering real-time updates, athlete information, medal standings and Olympic and Paralympic records.

Tech-forward South Korea will likely prove a fertile ground for both organizations to attract customers with modern technology-powered experiences.

Loser: Computer Systems

Cybersecurity researchers have cautioned that the Olympic Games have become ripe targets for hackers, as the events have grown more digitized with time. Indeed, more than 300 Olympics-related computer systems have already been hit, The New York Times reported.

Some are saying that North Korean hackers pose the greatest threat, as they have long been probing the computer networks that manage South Korean finance, media and infrastructure systems. Others say that diplomatic efforts between North and South Korea have reduced this threat.

Instead, they believe that Russian groups may launch a retaliation campaign over the decision to ban Russian athletes from the Games. The ban was based on a history of Russian doping during the Olympics. On Friday, The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed an appeal by 47 Russian athletes and coaches who said they had been wrongly excluded.

It is unclear who is behind the 300 hits that have already taken place and why. Whether the attackers are looking to dig up embarrassing information on athletes and organizers, or simply trolling participants by manipulating lighting and scoring systems, the truth may not be revealed until it happens.

Loser: Cable-Cutters (But Not Really)

NBCUniversal plans to broadcast or livestream a record 2,400 hours of Winter Olympics footage across NBC, NBC Sports, CNBC, USA and The Olympic Channel, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. Consumers whose TV package includes NBC will be able to watch the excitement on any of these channels using their pay-TV credentials.

Sports fans who cut the cable cord, however, may be at a loss. They can enjoy 30 minutes of free viewing the first time they visit the site or app, but beyond that, they will be restricted to five-minute on-demand videos from the NBC library.

However, there are other ways to get a glimpse of the action, such as using a good old-fashioned antenna to capture NBC’s over-the-air broadcast.

Or, consumers can sign into a media streaming platform like Plex, Sling TV or DirecTV Now. The latter two allow users to customize their pay-TV packages without a monthly contract and tune in via devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

Experts say the Olympics represent a great opportunity for such streaming TV services to attract new customers by enabling them to watch the entire 18-day Games for $35 to $45. The option exists to cancel the service at the end of the month, but many will likely discover they enjoy the service and opt to keep it – sacrificing their existing cable or satellite TV service in the process.

Winner: World Peace

For the first time in 11 years, athletes from North and South Korea entered the arena together as a giant dove lit up the sky and South Korean stars sang the iconic John Lennon song “Imagine.” The nations may still be at war, but the opening ceremony highlighted hopes that they may soon find peace.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was seen shaking hands with the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before also greeting North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, head of the North’s Olympic delegation and the first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to visit the South since the Korean War ended in 1953.

Figures from the North and South viewed the opening ceremony together, and rumor has it that Moon may be invited to Pyongyang in North Korea later this year, making him the first South Korean President to visit the country since 2007.

Winner: Anyone Offering Warmth

Warming tents and food trucks were positioned strategically along the 20-minute walking route from the parking area to the venue, giving guests their first opportunity to try out those Visa wearables.

Additional heating stations were set up inside the stadium, providing both warm space and warm food for frigid spectators. Organizers said they were prepared to provide lap blankets, knit caps, warm seat cushions, raincoats and hand and feet warmers to all 35,000 spectators free of additional charge.

However, temperatures climbed up toward freezing the day of the opening ceremony, so this investment may have been for naught.

Loser: Anyone Who Caught Norovirus

Earlier this week, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 32 cases of the norovirus, also known as the “winter vomiting bug.” By Thursday, the count had risen to 128 confirmed cases. The stomach bug is extremely contagious, and officials are scrambling to contain the outbreak.

Their number one piece of advice for attendees? Wash your hands. The virus is hard to kill and has no known vaccine. It spreads easily in close quarters, especially where restroom facilities are shared. Health officials are inspecting all restaurants and food facilities linked to the Olympics. Drinking water tested negative for the virus.

Fortunately, no athletes have been infected so far, but 1,200 Olympic staffers have been quarantined, including many security guards – the bug first struck on Sunday among security guards who were staying at the youth training center in Pyeongchang. South Korea has deployed 900 military personnel to make up the difference.

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