Thursday, February 3, 2022

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics: Good decision to stay home!

It is now Thursday here in the US, and tonight I will be watching Winter Olympics in Beijing on television like most of you. It will be the first time in 16 years that I have done that, and it will be with really mixed emotions.

First of all, I would like to thank the hundreds of people who reached out via email, blog comments, social support of my decision not to go to China for these games. I really appreciate your feedback. Truly!

I spent the better part of two days undoing everything I had been working on for the year. Communicating with my contacts at Team USA, cancelling flights and hotels, cancelling Covid tests, and reaching out to all of my sponsors. 

A lot has transpired in the last 5 days, since I wrote the last blog post, both great and bad. 

Let's start with the great news!

Saturday night I was at home and getting ready for bed. It was supposed to be my last night at home before heading to China and I definitely had mixed emotions. And then...I got a text message from my son that his wife was in labor, two weeks early, and it was happening fast. I stayed up and waited, excited to hear the news, and at 12:49am my first grandchild was born! She arrived on the same morning that I would have been flying to China. That would have been REALLY hard for me not to see her in person for a month! I guess this was meant to be.

I am currently with my son and his family now and loving the time with them. I promise to post some photos in the future.

And then there is the bad news:

I mentioned in the last blog post that I would reach out to my photographer friends who were going to Beijing, to have them share content for the blog. I had two friends who I was communicating with the most. Kyle (from USA Today) who also decided not to go, and my buddy Ian MacNicol, who is an amazing sports photographer from Glasgow, Scotland. Days before Ian was supposed to fly out from Europe, his charter flight was cancelled (since so many people pulled out) and he had to scramble to get new flights. He ended up flying out earlier than expected.

Then he arrived in Beijing only to find out that he tested POSITIVE for Covid! 

When he got to the airport, Ian had to do his Covid test and he said "This lady carried out a PCR test on me today, however I am sure she chose to use a knitting needle rather than a swab, the real killer was it felt like she drove it in with the heel of her hand! I swear I felt it scrape the back of my eyeball." This would put me over the edge!
After the test, he was transported to his hotel. As you can see, almost everyone working the Olympics in Beijing are wearing full PPE. Ian shoots of lot of the skiing events and, unlike me, he usually stays up in the mountain cluster. This was a 3 1/2 hour bus ride for him.
After getting to the hotel, he was notified that he had tested positive for Covid and would now be locked down. They put a guard in front of his room and he was not allowed to leave. Since nobody there speaks English, he is having a hard time communicating with them. They do have small translating devices, but he says that they are not working very well. At least he had a nice room with a good view (at the time).
The following morning Ian was tested again. This time they gave him a choice of a nasal test or a throat swab. As he told me "I was seriously worried that if they did the deep nose test everyday, they may cause brain damage to me." He happily chose the mouth swab. At this point he had symptoms as well, and found out that his son had Covid at home. If he had left on his original flight and not left early, he would have tested positive in Scotland and never left the country,

Later that first day, he told me that he was likely being moved from his hotel room to one of the quarantine hotels. And that is exactly what happened.
It was pretty late at night when they came to transport him to his new living quarters.

He said that his current location "seems like an old hotel that had been abandoned for a while" and the conditions are not so good. His view of the outside consists of a high fence to make sure that nobody gets in or out without permission. 

I asked him how the food was and he sent me this photo. He said "there is enough food for three people, but all of it was hot at one point, but delivered cold."

He also told me "good news and bad - numbers are moving in the right direction but also learnt that when I eventually leave this place I have to isolate in my original hotel room for a further 7 days!"

This means that Ian may miss the entire Olympics and stay in a small room the entire time. I hope that is not the case. It is Ian's exact situation that kept me from making the trip to Beijing! 

I have to say that Ian has a much better attitude than I would have in this situation. He is taking it all in stride. I check in with him at least a couple of times a day to try and keep his spirits high. He is posting images from his quarantine room on his Instagram account. You can follow him here. Let's make sure to comment on his posts and help him get through all this.

I will keep you all up to date on Ian's journey. I also know other photographers who have made it through the Covid net and are working the Olympics. I will try to share their stories and images as well.


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flwong said...

Hi Jeff. What a good news. Congratulations to you and family. Very unfortunate for Ian he got it. Hope he is fine now. Stay safe.

David said...

Jeff: glad you made the right decision. I know you miss having the camera in hand and making 25,000+ images of amazing athletics but you made the right decision. Thanks for sharing the story you did today.

Andy said...

I was hoping that you could take photos of some Olympic events on your TV and have them published here in the 6.2 seconds you would have if you were there in person. :)

In actuality, a video of your workflow would be cool. I've read your descriptions many times, but to see it in action could be enlightening.

I'm sorry for Ian. I don't know how the financials work, but as a small business/freelancer it would seem the photog will be out a lot of money, only to miss all the main events they wanted to cover, plus all that time that went into prep.

Congrats on the grandchild. Those will be great pictures too.

David McKellar said...

Congratulations Jeff. My granddaughter was born 6 days ago and is absolutely gorgeous. Sorry about your friend from Glasgow, that's about 30 miles from me!

Ralph Hightower said...

Congratulations Grandpa! I think you made the right call. I don't know if photographers and the news media are also isolated in an Olympic bubble; probably not. Ian's experience would be my worst fears; being a Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heilein). I hope that Ian recovers quickly and without complications.

John M Hanley said...

Hey Jeff. Glad to stay home but sorry about your friend. I started following him on Instagram and wished him well. What a terrible place to be stuck.