Music! Wifi! Olympians impressed with Pyeongchang perks

TIM REYNOLDS
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Winner Joey Mantia of the Unites States poses during the victory ceremony of the men's mass start during the ISU world single distances speed skating championships at Gangneung Oval in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. The world cup competition is also a test event for the upcoming Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The first impression some members of the USA Luge team got regarding how the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics will operate came on the bus ride from the airport to the mountain resort where they're staying.

Sensing the athletes were weary after long flights, the bus stopped for lunch.

Whether it's the South Korean volunteers learning all the names of athletes, offering wireless connectivity just about everywhere or even letting sliders pick what sort of music they want to hear on the start ramp, many of those vying for spots on next year's U.S. Olympic Team are liking what they're seeing so far from Pyeongchang and the surrounding areas.

"They're asking a lot of questions," doubles luge veteran Matt Mortensen said from South Korea on Tuesday. "They're doing the right things and everybody just seems really happy to be putting on this show for the world."

A dry run for the Olympics is essentially going on right now in the Pyeongchang area; cross country, nordic combined, luge, speed skating, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, figure skating and curling either have held or are currently contesting international events there, and other sports — alpine skiing, nordic skiing, bobsled, skeleton and biathlon included — are will do so in the next few weeks.

"It's kind of surreal thinking that next year is the Olympics and they'll be here," U.S. speed skater Mia Manganello said after she competed in Pyeongchang at the world single distance championships this month. "Hopefully, I'll be able to represent as well."

It's a critical time for athletes, and even more critical for the hosts. These test events, as they're known, are designed to both welcome the world and work out the kinks before the Olympics.

U.S. Olympic Committee sport performance chief Alan Ashley was in South Korea this month, and said he left the venues and villages convinced that Pyeongchang will be — or is — ready.

"These test events are good opportunities to check things out and give us an idea of what to expect for the games," US Skiing Freestyle Program Director Todd Schirman said. "Obviously, the environment a year from now will be different, but every note we can take away ... will help us ensure we have the best plan in place to compete at the highest level in 2018."

For skiers and sliders, the time in South Korea is of particular importance.

Figuring out the lay of the land, the culture, the food, that's all vital to anyone planning to compete in Pyeongchang. But for some sports — figure skating, speed skating, curling, hockey — the field of play won't be much different in South Korea than it will be anywhere else in the world.

In the sports like skiing, bobsled, skeleton and luge, every venue around the world can seem quite different, and figuring out how to attack those courses or tracks is rarely easy. Luge athletes are getting about 25 runs this week on the track at the Alpensia Sliding Center, with hopes of coming up with some sort of game plan to master turns most had never seen until a few days ago.

"Right now, I'm definitely just focused on getting down," two-time world luge champion Erin Hamlin said. "I'm still figuring it out."

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