Olympians face below freezing temperatures and virus outbreak as they settle into villages

Pence to attend opening ceremonies with the father of Otto Warmbier as his guest.

Feb 5, 2018; Gangneung, KOR; Members of Team USA Short Track Speedskating skate during a training session at Gangneung Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – With sub-zero temperatures and a virus sidelining 1,200 staff, the 2018 Winter Olympics is facing some challenges ahead of Friday’s opening ceremonies.

Two days ahead of the first downhill training run, the temperature in Pyeongchang was minus 19 Fahrenheit.

However, American skiers are hoping the cold plays to their advantage on the South Korean slopes, because they are accustomed to brutal conditions at home, men’s head coach Sasha Rearick said on Tuesday.

“Most of these guys grew up skiing Lake Louise when they were kids, the east coast boys all had to ski Sugarloaf (Maine) and Lake Placid — very cold places, brutal humidity. I know my boys are tougher, so I’m just going, like, ‘I hope it’s cold,” Rearick told reporters when asked how the weather would affect the team at the Feb. 9-25 Games.

Rearick also said the team was taking no chances with health and hygiene in the run-up to competition after organizers moved to combat a norovirus outbreak among private security staff.

“We’re disinfecting rooms, hand sanitizer everywhere, making sure hydration’s taken care of, and as soon as someone’s sick, isolate them and quarantine them, basically,” he said.

“Here at the Games we don’t stay in the (athletes’) village, we stay in our own compound where we have our own chefs and our own food.

“One part of that is to try to keep the home feeling. We cook American food that the guys like, that’s also healthy — and then controlling the environment, where we try to minimize our exposure (to illness).”

 Games chief Lee Hee-beom said on Tuesday that preparations for the first winter Olympics in Asia outside Japan were complete, but facing some unexpected issues.

He said some 1,200 private security staff have been sidelined as fear of a norovirus among some of them has forced organizers to replace them with military personnel pending medical tests.

“As a president of POCOG (organizing committee), I would like to apologize for this,” Lee said.

“Our disease control center other related government agencies here are now discussing countermeasures and will come up with proper measures and will be announced soon.”

Virus aside, the cold weather, could be another issue for organizers with the opening ceremony in the open-air Olympic stadium expected to be freezing.  Spectators already canceling their plans to attend despite having purchased tickets.

Lee said a special bag with hot packs, seatwarmers, a blanket, a hat and a windbreaker would be distributed to spectators in an effort to keep them warm at the start of what could turn out to be the coldest winter Olympics in decades.

Vice President Mike Pence will attend the opening ceremonies, bringing as his guest the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months and died in June 2017 from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.

“The vice president will be there with Mr. Warmbier at the opening ceremony … to remind the world of the atrocities that happen in North Korea,” a White House official said on Monday.

The United States believes North Korea, which has sent a team to the Games, is using the event for crude propaganda. Pence will also visit a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in 2010 in the sinking of a warship that Seoul blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack.

A North Korean ferry arrived in South Korea on Tuesday carrying a 140-strong orchestra to perform during the Winter Olympics, taking advantage of a rare sanctions exemption from Seoul 16 years after its previous visit but greeted by hundreds of angry South Korean protesters.