The United States Olympic Committee is hosting a seminar this week for American journalists who will be visiting South Korea next month for the Games of the XXIV Olympiad. Since many Olympic fans from the private sector are also planning on going to Seoul in September, the USOC's travel tips, suggestions, insights and recommendations may be universally helpful.
And even if you're not going to the Orient, it should be helpful to know that just because Korea is on the other side of the world, and that when it's Friday night over here it's late Saturday morning over there, that doesn't mean that when you come home from work at night you won't be able to quickly make a heaping plate of nachos and settle in front of the TV for some prime time Olympics. NBC didn't pay 15 billion Korean won for the television rights and not get something in return.Much of the competition will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Seoul time - which translates to U.S. prime time.
Take the much-anticipated men's 100-meter final, for instance. Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis will fire out of their blocks on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 1:30 p.m. in Korea, right after lunch. But in Salt Lake City it will be 9:30 p.m. on Friday night. In Los Angeles it will be 8:30 and in New York 11:30.
The gold medal men's basketball game will tipoff at noon - 8 p.m. Utah time - as will the volleyball and water polo finals, and virtually every important track and field final. The boxing finals will begin at 10 a.m., and so on. These will be the Olympics made for American TV. The Koreans do get a break on table tennis. Most of that competition will be in the evening, Seoul time.
At the seminar, the USOC cautioned journalists that the prime time reversal may require earlier getting-up times than many members of the fourth estate are used to.
Other important details were covered.
Great pains were taken to allay all fears that going into Seoul will be like going into the south side of Chicago after dark in a bright red Porsche convertible.
The USOC had one of its vice presidents, Dr. Evie G. Dennis, talk about her recent visit to Seoul.
"I was there at the height of the student riots, and didn't see a single thing," said Dr. Dennis. "The violence is very isolated. The only time I saw any violence was when I got back to the hotel and turned on the TV. I think that during the Olympics Seoul will probably be the safest place in the world."
She sounded a lot like someone who has just returned from New York and not been mugged.
Robert Helmick, the USOC president, said he'd been told personally by Secretary of State George Shultz that there hasn't been a successful terrorist incursion into South Korea since 1976. "Their security net is the tightest security net in the world," said Helmick.
His talk was going along fine until somebody asked him if the Americans, like the Australians, have a contingency plan for evacuation in case of terrorism.
"Uh, it's our policy not to talk about security measures," said Helmick.
Baaron Pittenger, the USOC's executive director, said that he's been to Korea a couple of times now, and, as he put it, "I really haven't felt any anti-American feelings over there. Just go over and don't act like a jerk."
The USOC had plenty of other helpful advice.
It asked John Powers, a sports writer for the Boston Globe and a veteran of several Olympics, to talk about how to cover the Games. "Geez," said Powers when he took the stand, "I wish there weren't so many of you who know me."
The gist of his remarks was to take over "lots of AA batteries and a case of kaopectate - I personally recommend the peppermint flavor."
Isabella Go, a native Korean and USOC consultant, spoke about customs and manners. She led a chorus of how to say "thank you" ("komapsumnia"), and "hello" ("yobose yo") in Korean and suggested that it wouldn't be a great idea to talk to a Korean about the Japanese, particularly if it made the Japanese look like human beings.
"It's not that Koreans don't like Japanese," said Isabella, "it's just that the situation is very - (she paused) - very competitive."
Komapsumnia very much.
Mike Moran, the USOC's press director, put it another way. "Don't brag about your Mitsubishi," he said, "brag about your Hyundai."
Moran suggested that it would be smart to pack a lot of small, inexpensive trinkets - since Koreans are very gracious about giving and receiving gifts.
And so it went. A plethora of valuable travel tips. It was cautioned that tips in Korean restaurants aren't necessary - since 15 percent will have already been tacked onto the bill anyway - and that only those with Indianapolis 500 experience should rent a car. A pamphlet was passed out on how to avoid jet lag - feast and fast alternatively the week before leaving and do NOT take a nap during the flight - and Ms. Go said the weather should be beautiful in September so don't worry about warm clothing.
"Just bring a light jacket," she said.
"Did she say flak jacket?" murmured somebody in the crowd.
The USOC officials rolled their eyes. They're certainly not worried. They're expecting no trouble, and even if there is an outburst or two, what's to worry? Chances are good that the important Olympic events of the day will already be out of the way.