KÉ Interview: Meet the Ultimate Olympic Superfan

Pyeongchang has officially become Everen Brown’s fifteenth Olympics. Brown, 57, a self-confessed Olympics superfan, has attended almost every Olympic Games since 1984 (both Winter and Summer games). He is a two-time Olympics torchbearer — Sydney in 2000, Salt Lake in 2002. His interest in the games started at the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 1984, but 34 years later, he still can’t get enough: It’s become his passion for life.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Korea Exposé: This being your fifteenth Olympics, how was Pyeongchang?

Everen Brown: The one thing I don’t do is compare Olympic Games – they are all different. But since you ask, what did I like about Pyeongchang? So far, it’s been great, it’s been a lot of fun. There have been many memorable and impressive moments. I thought Yuna Kim ice-skating at the top of the Olympic Stadium was pretty unique. For opening ceremonies, there’s only so much you can do, but I found that the skating element was very impressive.

I came to Pyeongchang with my nephew, Matt Kallio, looking for Team USA men’s ice hockey gold. Unfortunately they got knocked out in the tournament. But we did see gold: The women’s team got gold for the first time since Nagano 1998.

North and South Korean athletes walk in together in the opening ceremony. (Raphael Rashid/Korea Exposé)

As we all know, getting here wasn’t easy

I’ll be honest, a tough nut to crack was getting a hotel booking. I know many superfans who weren’t going to come. They told me “I’ve bought all my tickets to the games, but cannot book a room.” They were frustrated and decided not to come.

Read our travel guide about the challenges of navigating to and within the Olympics venues.

I know organizers had initially said people would be able to commute from Seoul daily, but you know what? I cannot imagine having done that. Many of the games including ice hockey finished really late for spectators in the US to watch within their timezone. Then there was a rush to get to the station before the last train, that is, if you were even lucky enough to reserve a seat.

One thing I thought organizers did a great job with was the mobile ticketing system. That was really nice. It meant you don’t need to deal with ticket scalpers and could buy tickets literally on the go and present your phone in order to enter the arenas. I know London 2012 tried to do something similar, but you still had to print the tickets out which defied the purpose.

What was your first Olympic Games?

1984, Los Angeles, at the opening ceremony. I had always wanted to go the Olympics. Growing up, [our family] would watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports, a program every Saturday with unique sports coverage. Outgrowth of that was the Olympics. I found a flight from Salt Lake City to LA for a reasonable price, and the rest is history.

The 1984 opening ceremony was incredible. The 84 pianists performing George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in unison, the mosaic of flags representing the participating countries, the John Williams fanfare…. It just totally enthralled me; it was the most amazing thing.

Everything you hear about the Olympics, meeting people from around the world.… I still meet friends that I met years ago. I still hear from people from Calgary 1988. It’s just fun, you meet people you wouldn’t normally meet; you have experiences you wouldn’t normally have. For me, ticket stubs from the games have so many memories attached to them.

The inter-Korean ice hockey team in their first game against Switzerland. (Raphael Rashid/Korea Exposé)

Did you ever expect to become a superfan?

I’ve actually missed three: Seoul 1988, Albertville 1992, and Lillehammer 1994. For Seoul 1988, there was a lottery system, and I didn’t get a single ticket. Back then, there was no internet hotel booking system. I wasn’t going to come all the way to Seoul without a ticket to the games.

But then all of a sudden you wake up in 2008 and it’s your tenth Olympics, and now it’s my fifteenth. I never thought I should go to all, but now I feel I have to. My nephew’s been to eleven. If he continues, I can die a happy man knowing that he will beat me to it.

What do you do exactly, outside the world of the Olympics?

I’m still figuring that one out! In short, I’m an Olympic superfan, but I’m also an entrepreneur based in Salt Lake City.

Yes, I do have a day job and a life outside the Olympics — I need the money to pull this off, but being an entrepreneur, I am my own boss so have the flexibility of coming during the entire duration of the games. Work hard, play hard.

North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik training. (Credit: Eugene Lee)

I started out in the advertising business at the age of 15, doing imprinted promotional products like logo on T-shirts. I still own the company.

Everen Brown’s panoramic photos. (Credit: Everen Brown)

Other than that, I’ve been doing 360-degree panoramic photography since 1987, using my Globuscope camera – I’ve taken over 650,000 panoramic photos in 170 countries around the world. I’ve even brought it here to Pyeongchang! Back in the days, I licensed a lot of content to Encarta, Microsoft’s encyclopedia. If you ever happened to use any of their 360 degrees images, they were probably mine.

My focus is creating a world atlas using my library of images — that’s my magnum opus.

Are you into Olympic souvenirs?

You know, at every Olympics, I like to buy a “what in the world were the organizers thinking when they designed and licensed this?” type of souvenir.

This time round at Pyeongchang I think I found it: a Pyeongchang merchandise pop-up store toy. Seriously, what were they thinking? A child is going to want to relive the experience of an Olympic shop in the form of a toy? I guess it’s perfect for your budding entrepreneurial kid though. I haven’t found anything that tops that one yet.

At the opening ceremony, there were goodie bags on every seat. Actually, those too, if left untouched, can become quite valuable in the future.

Goodie bags placed on every seat at the Opening Ceremony. They contained heating pads, a blanket, a beanie, an instrument, light stick, and a cushion. (Raphael Rashid/Korea Exposé)

One thing I also look out for is the most expensive piece of merchandise. I think I found it this year: a set of mini Korean Moon jars.  They cost 1,750,000 won ($1,615) for the lot. Wonder who will buy those.

After the games, organizers will start to sell the fence wraps from arenas and venues online. So I’ve got a collection of Olympic banners. I have a banner from Atlanta 1996’s swimming venue  that’s 150 feet long. The stuff I collect is something only a fan would appreciate or love. It might be a bottle cap that has the rings of it from a particular Olympics. It might be something just totally weird like a wrapper from food.

I have been present every single time Michael Phelps got a gold medal. I’m not sure other people can say that, other than his mother and his coach. It’s not the price that counts, it’s the making of memories.

A “what in the world were the organizers thinking when they designed and licensed this?” type of souvenir. (Credit: Everen Brown)

Do you sell them?

Oh no, they are all going into my lifetime collection. In my basement I have large boxes — I fill about one or two per Olympiad. When I want to relive the excitement of a particular game, I pull the box out. I have the ticket stubs, the crazy souvenirs as I just mentioned, daily programs, local newspapers.

At the end of the day its a collection that only means something to me because it’s my experience at the games, I’m not buying these for eBay.

I noticed you had an opening ceremony ‘routine’…. Can you tell me more about that?

I start out sleeping in that morning, then I have a nice big lunch. I take a nap, then later that afternoon I have an early dinner — not a large one, but just enough so that I’m not hungry when I go in to the ceremony.

My goal is, especially when there’s a huge time zone difference, not to fall asleep during the event. You’ve paid a lot of money and a lot of time for this, I want to enjoy the event as much as I possible can.

Afterwards, I like to find a hotel close by, not necessarily the one I’m already checked-in to, so that I don’t have to fight the crowds when I go back home.

You’ve made quite a few heads turn with that Team USA Ralph Lauren jacket. How the hell did you get your hands on that?

This jacket was made for the Team USA athletes. It’s got some electric heating system woven into it. Despite these jackets only reserved for the athletes, if I’m not mistaken Ralph Lauren made just 16 available to the public. I was able to get one of them through contacts.

Everen Brown in front of Olympic Stadium sporting his Team USA Ralph Lauren jacket. (Raphael Rashid/Korea Exposé)

Sorry to ask you but your passion must cost a lot of money…

I look at it like going on vacation. You’re going to spend money to go on a holiday; a lot of my holidays just so happens to be going to the Olympics. Depending on the Olympiad, it can be more, but actually Nagano 1998 turned out to be one of the cheapest I’ve been to. Pyeongchang hasn’t been the most expensive. I also tend to use airmiles to go to Olympics.

How are the Olympics part of your identity?

A lot of people know I’m the superfan, whether it’s my clients or friends. When the games start to crank up, I start getting emails like, “I know you’re there” or “You must be in Korea.” Everybody that knows me know of my love for the games and that I’ve been to so many Olympics.

What is the meaning of the Olympics in your life?

What’s interesting about the Olympics is that it all comes into one place. Instead of going on a trip around the world, the world comes to you. Seeing people from different places, seeing the different flags, the ambiance of the games. They are so special.

And of course the competitions: The fun part is we live in a world ravaged by war and hate, but we come to the Olympics and we can have battles on the ice. Nobody gets hurt and goes back home alive.

What are your emotions before and after games?

There are a lot of trepidations about how it’s going to turn out. I was really curious about how the games would come down here in Pyeongchang. I was almost ready to cry at the women’s ice hockey [when Team USA got gold], it was history in the making!

(Tearing up) You don’t always see it at the games. Sometimes you come and the home team doesn’t win. So that was really exciting, it was a nailbiter of a game. I told my nephew: this is why we come. Plus, we get to watch the games without commercial interruption, which is a second bonus.

Next week, I’ll be back in Salt Lake City, I’ll catch up [with all the Pyeongchang action] for the first few days, and then I’ll be back to normal.

And then I’ll start to focus on Tokyo 2020!

 

Cover image: Everen Brown at end of the Figure Skating Ladies’ Single Free Skating program on Feb. 23, 2018. (Raphael Rashid/Korea Exposé)

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Raphael is a freelance journalist and fixer. He has an MA in Korean Studies from Korea University, and worked at Edelman Korea for three years representing some of South Korea's biggest conglomerates.