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(New Year Special) S. Korea looking to score big with Winter Olympics in 2018

2017/12/29 09:00

SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will try to score big and show its sports power when the country hosts the Winter Olympic Games next year.

PyeongChang 2018 will be the first Olympics in South Korea since the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. The first mega winter sports event in South Korea will be held from Feb. 9 to 25 next year under the slogan "Passion. Connected."

   It took 18 years for PyeongChang to win the bid for the Winter Olympics. The South Korean alpine town's first two Winter Games bids weren't successful as it lost to Vancouver, Canada, for the 2010 Olympics and then to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 competition.

PyeongChang, some 180 kilometers east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, was finally awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics in 2011 when it beat out Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France, in an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote.

Since then, South Koreans have been giving their utmost efforts to set the stage for winter athletes and fans.

This photo taken on Dec. 20, 2017, shows snow sports venues for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap) This photo taken on Dec. 20, 2017, shows snow sports venues for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

The preparations for the country's first Winter Olympics weren't easy. While there were managerial changes in the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), South Korea also saw its effort hit by a corruption scandal involving former president and missile provocations from North Korea.

At the end of this year, the organizers heard that winter sports powerhouse Russia will not be allowed to compete at PyeongChang in the wake of its state-sponsored doping scandal, though its athletes can compete under a neutral flag.

Despite some negative news on the PyeongChang Olympics, South Korea is set to take center stage of the world and the country will find out the fruit of its hard work within 42 days.

Before entering 2018, the POCOG declared that their 12 venues are all set to host 102 medal events in PyeongChang and its sub-host cities of Gangneung and Jeongseon. Nearly 880 billion won (US$819 million) was used for venue construction.

South Korea constructed six new venues for the Olympics, while six existing facilities were refurbished for the competition. These venues have gone through a total of 26 competition and non-competition test events. The dozen venues are all located within 30 minutes of each other, making it easy for visitors to travel around.

This photo taken on Dec. 21, 2017, shows the ice sports venues for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap) This photo taken on Dec. 21, 2017, shows the ice sports venues for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

The construction for the Olympic Village where athletes will live during the Games is also finished. These residential facilities will officially opened on Feb. 1, while the main press center is scheduled to open its doors on Jan. 9.

With the venues completed, POCOG President Lee Hee-beom recently said that South Korea is waiting and ready to welcome the world’s winter sports athletes. The POCOG estimates 95 countries will send about 6,500 athletes and officials to take part in its Olympics that will feature seven sports across 15 disciplines.

South Korea is especially hoping for North Korea's participation which will emphasize the message of peace and harmony that the Olympic Games represent. The IOC has said it will provide the necessary support to encourage North Korea's participation, but the communist state has yet to give clear answer.

Until the Olympic Games open, South Koreans will give their final push to improve their service quality and convenience to visitors. The POCOG has selected nearly 15,000 volunteers for the Olympics and it recently started their job training.

This file photo taken on Dec. 6, 2017, shows South Korean children taking a photo with the PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games mascots at Incheon International Airport. (Yonhap) This file photo taken on Dec. 6, 2017, shows South Korean children taking a photo with the PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games mascots at Incheon International Airport. (Yonhap)

As for the Games accessibility, the operation of the newly opened KTX high-speed railway is ready to transport visitors from Incheon International Airport to PyeongChang in less than an hour and 50 minutes. The national train operators will run 51 train services daily during the Olympic Games.

South Korea will further try to promote the Olympics and boost ticket sales in the new year. As of last week, the organizers announced that ticket sales for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics have surpassed 60 percent.

The POCOG has appointed more than 40 honorary ambassadors, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in and former Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, to promote the quadrennial event.

It also hopes the Olympic torch relay, which began on Nov. 1, will draw national interest to the PyeongChang Games. The relay, which will cover 2,018 kilometers across the nation, will make its last stop of 2017 in Daegu. The torch relay in 2018 will start from North Gyeongsang Province and travel around the Gyeonggi Province region before it will come to the South Korean capital city Seoul on Jan. 13. The Olympic flame will then go to Gangwon Province on Jan. 21 and enter the Olympic Plaza in PyeongChang on the opening day of the Winter Games.

This photo provided by Gumi City Government on Dec. 27, 2017, shows two runners in the Olympic torch relay for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap) This photo provided by Gumi City Government on Dec. 27, 2017, shows two runners in the Olympic torch relay for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)

South Korea will not only look to become a successful host of the Olympics, but will also try to make its name as strong winter sports performer.

South Korea has set out to collect up to 20 medals at PyeongChang 2018, including eight gold, and crack the top five in the medal race. It plans to send maximum 150 athletes.

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.

After the Winter Olympics, South Korea will try to keep the momentum ongoing by hosting the Winter Paralympics from March 9 to 18.

In this file photo taken on Nov. 19, 2017, South Korean men's short track speed skaters celebrate after they won the gold medal in the 5,000-meter relay event at the International Skating Union World Cup in Seoul. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken on Nov. 19, 2017, South Korean men's short track speed skaters celebrate after they won the gold medal in the 5,000-meter relay event at the International Skating Union World Cup in Seoul. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr

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