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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — By the time the 23rd Olympic Winter Games get around to their Opening Ceremony on Friday, hundreds of athletes will already have been in action for a day and a half, starting Wednesday night with a new version of the ice chess otherwise known as curling.
The pomp and pageantry of the official Opening Ceremony won't get under way in PyeongChang until 6 a.m. ET Friday. But by daybreak Thursday ET, the brooms will already have been out for eight games of mixed doubles curling; men's ski jumping will also be well under way by dawn. Meanwhile, one of the most popular events, figure skating, glides into action Thursday night.
You'll need a program to identify everyone, because athletes and spectators will be bundled up against the more than suitably wintry weather in PyeongChang, where temperatures this week have plunged well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
"If you show up at PyeongChang with one measly hand warmer, you're severely underestimating how cold it gets here," said Choi Su-gyeong, a local government employee who grew up in PyeongChang, according to the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh.
Choi advised visitors to layer on scarves and heat packs down to their toes.
"The part of the face that gets the coldest is the ears. If your ears have ever been in agony in the winter wind, you can probably relate to this," she said.
"It's fun, but it's cold," said Rich Lepping, chairman of the U.S. Curling Association, who watched as U.S. siblings Matt and Becca Hamilton won their first match in the inaugural mixed doubles curling competition Thursday morning against a team of Olympic athletes from Russia.
Lepping said the Hamiltons, from Madison, Wisconsin, are in the mix for a medal, which would be the first for the United States since the U.S. men's team captured bronze at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy. The medal rounds for the mixed doubles event are scheduled for next week.
"It was a dominant win," Lepping said after an estimated 3,500 fans — most of them South Koreans — cheered inside the Gangneung Curling Center. The venue also exploded when the home team later defeated Finland in its first-round match.
Flags from South Korea, as well as Germany and China, were waved inside the arena. Home country pride was a must.
"I've never worn so much red, white and blue in my life!" said Lepping's wife, Beth, who also hails from Madison.
Ken and Trang Douglas of San Jose, California — self-described curling fans — decided to make PyeongChang their honeymoon destination after getting married last summer.
Trang Douglas, draped in a U.S. flag, watched excitedly as the Hamiltons sent a polished granite stone sailing down a lane of ice and swept furiously in front of it, guiding its direction, to knock out their Russian competitors.
"They kicked butt," she said after the U.S. victory. "They had such chemistry."
Men's individual normal hill ski jumping, which takes off with qualifying at 7:30 a.m. ET Friday, will feature one of the stars of the Games, three-time medalist Noriaki Kasai of Japan. At 45, Kasai — known as The Legend — is taking part in an unprecedented eighth Winter Olympiad.
"It's an amazing record," Kasai told The Japan Times. "I'm really excited. My goal is the same every time, and it's to win a gold medal."
"I'm exhausted from thinking too much," he said. "There's no point in thinking about it, so I'm just trying not to overthink."
NBC is airing 176 hours of live coverage in the United States, concluding with the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 25. NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, meanwhile, will stream more than 1,800 hours of coverage.
Erik Ortiz reported from PyeongChang. Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles.