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While Mirai Nagasu was practicing her triple axel and Chloe Kim was perfecting her back-to-back frontside 1080s, Amy Acton and her team were gearing up for a different side of the Olympics. Acton Style Group manages the hair, makeup, and wardrobe for NBC’s on-air talent during the games — nearly 150 reporters, analysts, and hosts in Pyeongchang alone — and the team started prepping for this year’s events even before landing in Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Switch on NBC any time of day during the games and you’ll see broadcasters reporting live, seemingly unfazed by the fact that it’s actually 3 a.m. in South Korea and around 7 degrees with the wind chill.
Ideally, says Acton, as a viewer, you won’t even notice when she’s doing a good job. “It’s one of the largest-watched television events, so you want everything to be perfect — not just on the wardrobe and makeup end, but you don’t want anything to go wrong for anyone,” she says, adding that unless you’re watching Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, the notoriously theatrical figure-skating commentators, the aesthetics should take a backseat to the substance of the broadcast. “If you’re watching [NBC reporters] Rebecca Lowe or Carolyn Manno, we want them to be the star, not their wardrobe. We still want their wardrobe to be nice and beautiful, but it’s not the first thing we want you to notice.”
Of course, it takes a lot of work to make it look so effortless on screen. To keep things running 24/7, everyone works in 12- to 14-hour shifts, typically from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. or vice versa. In the weeks leading up to the games, Acton’s team shipped 4,500 pieces of Nike gear to Pyeongchang to outfit the talent for shots at the bottom of the ski hill or the side of the rink. The sportswear brand is the official wardrobe provider for NBC’s Olympics coverage, and in about six months, it will start working with the network on developing products for Tokyo 2020.
As for the in-studio talent, men get, on average, six suits each, which means 150 suits, 250 shirts, and 250 ties. Women, meanwhile, get about 20 studio looks — one for every appearance. (“Obviously, a man can wear a navy blue suit three times in three weeks and no one would even notice,” says Acton. The same can’t be said for a woman.)
A team of 15 makeup artists sets up shop in each of the two Olympic headquarters — one in the mountains at the International Broadcast Center and one by the studios and rinks in coastal Gangneung — hauling closets worth of MAC lip conditioner, super-rich moisturizer, and waterproof foundation, their essential toolkit for Pyeongchang’s dry, frigid air.
Summer Olympics actually tend to be more of a beauty challenge when it comes to preparing for the conditions, she says, though this may have something to do with the fact that half the team is bundled up in ski masks and hooded parkas up in the mountains. She’s skeptical of reports that presenters from other networks have found their water-based makeup freezing to their faces (“if you’re wearing that much product, then there’s a whole other issue happening there”), but confirms that it is very, very cold.
Fortunately they’re in the holy land of skincare, and in their extremely limited free time, they’ve raided nearby shops for K-beauty finds. “We have really been loving the Korean face masks that we picked up here,” she says. “Everyone is using humidifiers in the makeup rooms just to keep the moisture up. It is dry and cold here in the mountains. But truthfully, lip balm is king out here. You cannot have enough lip balm.”
This year marks Acton’s 10th Olympics; back in 2000, in Sydney, she worked with just three other people. (“We almost died from exhaustion working that game,” she says.) Since then, the team has grown exponentially and learned from their mistakes along the way.
”The Olympics presents new challenges every time because you’re always working in a different country and a different culture,” she says. “The worst thing that can happen is you’re behind the eight-ball because all the shops close on Saturday at 4 o’clock and, ugh, you weren’t expecting that, and you’re on the air Sunday morning. So we try to think of every possible pitfall and have a plan to thwart it before it happens.” Of course it’s impossible to anticipate everything, like the four hours of gridlock traffic they dealt with every day in Rio. So far, at least, Pyeongchang has been smooth sailing in comparison, she says.
On top of working with NBC’s talent, the team touches up the many Olympians they interview. When athletes come through, Acton says, the emphasis is on “neat and tidy,” so it’s a relatively low-maintenance process. “We will put them through a quick once-over just to make sure their medals are fitting in the right place if they are showing them,” she says. “We’ll put them through a quick hair and makeup, but nothing too much because we want them to look like athletes and feel like themselves.”
When Olympians want something with a little more, shall we say, pizzazz, they’ll either do it themselves — like the streaks of glitter cross-country skier Jessie Diggins smears on her cheeks before a race — or stop by the Beauty Shop in the Olympic Plaza, a hybrid nail-and-hair salon that hundreds of athletes visit over the course of the games.
One of them, Italian speed skater Arianna Fontana, took home her sixth Olympic gold medal in the 500-meter short track on Tuesday. But before that, she and her teammates sat down for a slightly more relatable activity: manicures. Patriotic nail art is big at the Olympics (no surprise there), and many of the athletes get their tricolor tips painted on site.
The salon is run by the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee in partnership with Seoul’s Seokyeong University. Volunteer students and recent graduates from the school’s Beauty Arts program provide free haircuts, blowouts, manicures, and other services to athletes at the games, often snapping selfies with their favorites afterwards. For Olympians, it’s a convenient place to get spruced up before big events like the opening and closing ceremony, or just get a more aerodynamic cut in time for a bobsled run or gold-medal game.
The one group that you might expect to get professional beauty help at the games (if only because they’re almost always impeccably coiffed) turns out to be one that typically takes the DIY route. Figure skaters often do their own hair and makeup before they go on the ice — a process that can take several hours, depending on the look they’re going for. And in a sport that rewards expressiveness, a dark smoky eye à la Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, a flick of winged liner like Nagasu, or even artfully groomed brows like Adam Rippon’s can add a layer of drama to a performance.
Even for athletes that spend most of the games behind a pair of goggles and a neck warmer, the Olympics is probably the only time in their lives they’ll have millions of people watching their every move. (When Kim was awarded her gold medal, she said she didn’t want to cry because she “worked so hard on [her] eyeliner.”)
For Acton, the role of beauty at the Olympics may be behind-the-scenes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. “The Olympics is so much more than just a television show,” she says, “and if we can help those broadcasters feel extremely confident in the way they look so they aren’t having to worry about their hair or their makeup or their wardrobe, then it gives them more time to focus on the stories that are the star of the Olympics: the coverage and the world coming together and being as one.”
Plus, Olympic gold medalist or not, who among us doesn’t like a free blowout?