(Yonhap Feature) PyeongChang believes its time has come

January 15, 2011 11:04 am 

By Yoo Jee-ho

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Jan. 14 — Nestled among the Taebaek Mountains, the main ridge of the Korean Peninsula along the east coast, South Korea's alpine town of PyeongChang is brimming with new hopes that it will be the eventual winner in a tight race to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

PyeongChang is bidding for the third time to host a Winter Olympics for the first time in South Korea, with its fate to be determined in July at an International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Durban, South Africa.

PyeongChang's chances of winning the 2018 Games appear to be brighter than before after one of its competitors, Annecy of France, is apparently falling behind in preparations after its bidding committee chief abruptly resigned in December.

Denis Masseglia, chairman of the French Olympic Committee, has even acknowledged that Annecy's bid is about "four or five months behind" its South Korean and German rivals.

That situation has made the competition essentially a two-horse race between PyeongChang and Munich. But PyeongChang officials said they won't let their guards down, because the outcome will largely depend on how well they can win support from each IOC member, European or not.

"PyeongChang is ready," Lee Kwang-jae, the governor of Gangwon Province in which PyeongChang is located, said this week. "We will try to open new horizons of Winter Olympics in Asia, beyond Europe and North America."

Cho Yang-ho, the chairman of the nation's main airline Korean Air who heads PyeongChang's bid committee, cautioned against optimism.

"We just have to explain to each member why we have to host the games," Cho said. "We will keep doing that until the day of the voting on July 6. That really is all we can do."

PyeongChang has built its case on the argument that Asia deserves another chance at hosting the Winter Olympics. The only Winter Games held in the continent took place in 1972 in Sapporo, Japan, and 1998 in Nagano, Japan.

Although the IOC has no stated policy of rotating the Olympics, winter or summer, among continents as football's global governing body FIFA does, PyeongChang is banking on hopes that IOC members will look past Europe this time after awarding the Winter Games to Italy and Russia for 2006 and 2014, respectively.

A sense of charming optimism is spreading among PyeongChang's bid officials as well as its residents and fans, as they greeted skiers from around the world for this week's international ski jump competition held ahead of an on-site IOC inspection.

"We must win it this time," Choi Jong-ho, a 65-year-old ski fan from the nearby city of Wonju, said, referring to PyeongChang's Olympic bid. "Some do it in their second try, so why can't we do it in our third attempt?"

Lee Yeo-jin, a local high school student, said she thinks PyeongChang's two failed bids have only hardened its residents' desire to make another attempt.

This week's competition, named the FIS Ski Jumping Continental Cup, was hosted by the Alpensia Resort, a cluster of newly built world-class hotels, shops, restaurants and other amusement facilities in PyeongChang.

Dozens of red, yellow and blue placards, put up by local restaurateurs, ski shop owners and fans to promote PyeongChang's bid, fluttered in strong northeasterly winds along a four-lane road leading in from a busy highway.

Though this week's competition was a second-tier event beneath the FIS World Cup, hundreds of winter sports enthusiasts, braving the chill of minus-15 degrees Celsius, flocked to Alpensia, waving colorful flags and holding up signs that read "PyeongChang 2018" and "We support PyeongChang's bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics."

As fans cheered one jumper after another soaring through the crisp winter air, their hopes that PyeongChang will get to fly high on its bid campaign bordered on desperation.

PyeongChang's "Why not us?" defiance is, in a sense, a byproduct of two narrow defeats. It lost to Vancouver, Canada, for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 edition by just three and four votes, respectively.

In each voting, PyeongChang was the leader after the first round of voting. But since the Korean town didn't win the majority, the voting went to an extra round, allowing its competitors to claim victory.

A month from now, PyeongChang will take an important step toward winning the bid. The IOC will conduct an on-site inspection of PyeongChang from Feb. 14-20. The same team will visit Annecy from Feb. 8-13 and Munich from Feb. 27-March 5.

The team's evaluation reports will be made public no later than one month before the Durban meeting. While positive evaluation reports don't always guarantee victory for candidates, they are used as a reference for technical aspects of bids.

This week's FIS ski jump event is one of two international events set for PyeongChang before the IOC inspection. The other is the Feb. 7-9 FIS Snowboard World Cup, which will be staged on the slopes of the adjacent Yongpyong Resort.

In its two failed previous bids, PyeongChang and neighboring towns with Olympic-ready facilities hosted a slew of international events in a variety of sports, ranging from snowboarding to biathlon, curling, figure skating and alpine skiing for disabled athletes.

Officials say running competitions helps showcase the potential Olympic venues to international athletes and officials, and establishes PyeongChang as a viable host for the Winter Olympics.

PyeongChang plans to run a compact Winter Olympics, with all competition venues accessible by bus within 30 minutes of each other.

According to bid officials, PyeongChang, if selected as the host, would run the Olympics in two major clusters: An Alpensia cluster, centered around the Alpensia Resort, would host snow events such as alpine skiing and ski jumping and also the sliding sports of luge, bobsledding and skeleton, while a coastal cluster, in the eastern area of PyeongChang, would be home to ice events, including hockey, speed skating and figure skating.

"Seven of the 13 competition venues planned have been complete," said Kim Man-ki, director of the media communications division at the bidding committee. "We've secured land space and finished planning for six other places. If PyeongChang is selected as the Winter Olympics host, then construction work for those facilities will begin soon afterward."

Park Yong-sung, president of the Korean Olympic Committee, once quipped that winning the IOC vote involving some 100 members is more difficult than running for governorship in Gangwon Province with more than 1 million voters.

"It's difficult to predict our chances of winning at this point," Park said last week. "Annecy may be a bit behind, but no one in Munich or in PyeongChang would be able to tell you with confidence that their city has a better chance."

PyeongChang residents are slightly less diplomatic.

"We all believe we can pull this off," said Shim Gyeong-soo, a 60-year-old farmer from PyeongChang who worked on his town's previous bid committee. "People here feel good about our chances this time." (PNA/Yonhap)



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