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PyeongChang readying for largest Winter Olympics ever

2017/08/10 09:00

SEOUL, Aug. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's east coast resort town of PyeongChang is preparing for the largest Winter Olympic Games in history, with homegrown athletes having set their eyes on a record medal haul.

PyeongChang, which lies some 180 kilometers east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, won the bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in July 2011. The competition will be held from Feb. 9 to 25 next year under the slogan "Passion. Connected."

PyeongChang 2018 will be the first Olympics in South Korea since the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.

A dozen venues in PyeongChang and its sub-host cities of Gangneung and Jeongseon will stage seven sports across 15 disciplines.

The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) estimates 95 countries will send about 6,500 athletes and officials to take part in its Olympics. They will vie for a record 102 gold medals at stake.

This undated file photo, provided by the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organizing committee, shows the competition's official emblem. (Yonhap) This undated file photo, provided by the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organizing committee, shows the competition's official emblem. (Yonhap)

PyeongChang won its Winter Games bid on its third try. It lost to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics and then to Sochi for the 2014 edition.

PyeongChang finally beat out Munich, Germany and Annecy, France for the 2018 Olympics in an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote in 2011.

Both IOC and PyeongChang officials have stressed that the host nation must be competitive in the medals race to spark interest in the Olympics and pack arenas across PyeongChang. And South Korea has set out to collect up to 20 medals at PyeongChang 2018, including eight gold, and crack the top five in the standings.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, South Korea grabbed three gold, three silver and two bronze medals to rank 13th.

South Korea's best Winter Games performance came at Vancouver in 2010, when it won six gold medals and hauled in a record 14 medals total to finish fifth.

All 26 Winter Olympic titles by South Korea have come from ice events -- short track, speed skating and figure skating. It is eyeing stronger performances in sliding events in 2018.

A whopping 21 of those 26 gold medals have come from short track speed skating, and the country should pick up a few more on home ice.

Shim Suk-hee and Choi Min-jeong have dominated the women's competition of late and they will be considered heavy favorites. Shim won three medals at her Olympic debut in 2014, while Choi is a two-time world overall champion.

In the 2016-2017 season, Shim finished first overall in the 1,500m in the International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup points race, and Choi finished second in the 1,000m. With the two leading the way, South Korea captured four of the six World Cup relay titles.

In speed skating, Lee Sang-hwa will try to win her third straight gold medal in the women's 500m. Only Bonnie Blair of the United States has won three straight Olympic titles in the distance, though the third of Blair's title, at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, came two years after her second gold.

Two former short trackers will seek to become inaugural Olympic speed skating champions in mass start, a 16-lap race where all skaters start at once. Lee Seung-hoon and Kim Bo-reum ended the past ISU World Cup season ranked No. 1 in men's and women's mass start.

Yun Sung-bin in men's skeleton represents South Korea's best hope for the first Olympic medal in a sliding event. He has finished second overall in each of the past two International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) World Cup seasons. In eight World Cup races in the 2016-2017 season, Yun never finished worse than fifth. He had one win and three runner-up finishes, including one in PyeongChang in March.

This file photo, taken on Feb. 14, 2017, shows the inside of Gangneung Ice Arena, the venue for figure skating events at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap) This file photo, taken on Feb. 14, 2017, shows the inside of Gangneung Ice Arena, the venue for figure skating events at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

Of the 12 venues, seven are for sports on snow, and five for events on ice. They are all located within 30 minutes of each other, and it's the compact venue concept that helped PyeongChang win over IOC members.

The PyeongChang Mountain Cluster will be home to Alpensia Biathlon Centre, Cross-Country Skiing Centre, Ski Jumping Centre, Sliding Centre, Bokwang Snow Park and Yongpyong Alpine Centre.

Venues in Gangneung are some 20 kilometers east of the PyeongChang Mountain Cluster, and facilities there are Gangneung Curling Centre, Gangneung Hockey Centre, Gangneung Ice Arena, Gangneung Oval and Kwandong Hockey Centre.

Jeongseon Alpine Centre is the lone venue in Jeongseon, about 20 kilometers south of PyeongChang.

Six of the 12 venues are being constructed for the Olympics, while six existing facilities will have been refurbished for the competition. The organizers are spending about 872 billion won (US$775.2 million) on venue construction.

As of late July, the facilities were on average nearly 97 percent complete. Eight of them -- Gangneung Ice Arena, Gangneung Oval, Gangneung Hockey Centre, Kwandong Hockey Centre, Olympic Ski Jumping Centre, Olympic Biathlon Centre, Olympic Cross-Country Skiing Centre, and Gangneung Curling Centre -- are complete and some of them have already hosted international and domestic competitions to check their operational readiness.

In this file photo taken on Aug. 4, 2017, Park Ji-sung, former South Korean men's football captain, is flanked by Soohorang (L) and Bandabi. Soohorang is the mascot for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and Bandabi represents the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken on Aug. 4, 2017, Park Ji-sung, former South Korean men's football captain, is flanked by Soohorang (L) and Bandabi. Soohorang is the mascot for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and Bandabi represents the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics. (Yonhap)

Other venues are also well on their way to the finish line. The Olympic Sliding Centre, where luge, bobsled and skeleton events will be held, is about 95 percent complete, while Bokwang Snow Park, where snowboarding and freestyle skiing competitions will be carried out, is some 88 percent complete.

Two venues for alpine skiing events -- Jeongseon Alpine Centre and Yongpyong Alpine Centre -- have completion rates of under 90 percent, but the organizers said construction will be finished in October because both places have already been used as ski resorts.

In addition to sports facilities, the construction of other essential Olympic venues is in the home stretch.

PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be staged, is about 86 percent complete, but the organizers are working to complete the construction by this fall with 35,000 seats. The athletes' villages in PyeongChang and Gangneung are approximately 86 percent and 97 percent complete, respectively.

Road and railway projects to enhance accessibility to the Olympic venues are also being carried out as scheduled. For the Games, a total of 1,039 kilometers of roads was newly created in Gangwon Province over the last six years.

Among them, the construction for a new railway segment connecting Wonju and Gangneung was completed in March, and officials began testing the bullet train service at the end of July, according to the Korea Rail Network Authority.

South Korea has been working to build a high-speed KTX train line connecting west and east. The new segment, which allows for a maximum speed of 250 kilometer per hour, will be added to the existing line that connects Incheon to Wonju. The organizers said once all segments are open, it will take less than two hours to travel from Incheon International Airport to Gangneung.

This photo, provided by the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organizing committee on Feb. 10, 2017, shows PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, under construction in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap) This photo, provided by the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organizing committee on Feb. 10, 2017, shows PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, under construction in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

Those who plan to drive to Gangwon Province will also have better access to the venues with a new expressway. South Korea's transport ministry in June officially opened a segment that runs from east Hongcheon to Yangyang in Dongseo Expressway that links Seoul and Yangyang County in northern Gangwon Province.

The new expressway will not only allow visitors to have better access to the host cities, but will also take some traffic volume off of existing expressways.

Previously, Yeongdong Expressway 1 was the only major expressway bridging the Seoul Metropolitan area and Gangwon Province, but following the opening of Yeongdong Expressway 2 last November -- a route between Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, and Wonju -- and now with Dongseo Expressway, Gangwon Province-bound traffic is expected to flow better. The authorities also said they are also working on renovating road surfaces and other traffic facilities.

While improving long-distance accessibility, Gangwon Provincial Government is trying to ensure comfortable and speedy travel near the Olympic venues. The officials are expanding or constructing 16 roads, and nine of them are 90 percent complete, while rest are 75 percent done.

The organizers said these roads will be completed by November.

During the Games, however, transportation access to the facilities will be strictly controlled, as only authorized shuttle buses and vehicles will be permitted entry. Spectators will have to leave their cars in a transfer parking lot in a designated area and travel to the venues via shuttle bus.

Representing the PyeongChang Olympics will be a white tiger dubbed "Soohorang." A white tiger is a mythological guardian in Korean folklore and is considered sacred.

"Sooho" means protection in Korean, and "rang" comes from the middle letter of "ho-rang-i," the Korean word for tiger.

jeeho@yna.co.kr

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