DURBAN, South Africa, July 6 (Yonhap) -- With his hands full with a sluggish economy and tensions with North Korea, President Lee Myung-bak has still made time, either in the middle of the night or important meetings, to press ahead with what he called one of his "duties": Delivering the Winter Olympics to PyeongChang.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak steps out of his presidential jet after arriving in Durban, South Africa, on July 2. (Yonhap)
On Wednesday, Lee saw his tireless efforts bear big fruit as PyeongChang defeated Germany's Munich and France's Annecy to win the right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, a happy ending for the South Korean alpine city's decade-long quest for the Games.
The victory was a triumph for Lee as well, who flew halfway around the world to this South African port city last weekend to make final pitches for PyeongChang's third straight Olympic attempt ahead of Wednesday's International Olympic Committee vote.
Lee led PyeongChang's final presentation at the IOC assembly.
During a 17-hour flight from Seoul, Lee said he practiced his English-language presentation so diligently his throat ached. From Sunday through Tuesday, Lee attended two dress rehearsals for the presentation and "sliced up his 24 hours" to meet as many IOC members as possible, officials said.
One IOC member came to the meeting holding Lee's autobiography and asked for his autograph, officials said.
Aides said Lee's activity in Durban was just a small part of his months-long campaign.
"Whenever President Lee met with foreign heads of state or engaged in other summit activities, he never failed to ask them for support for PyeongChang," a presidential secretary said on condition of anonymity.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (C) shakes hands with an unidentified participant in an International Olympic Committee meeting in Durban, South Africa, on July 5. (Yonhap)
Whenever IOC members visited South Korea, Lee also made sure to meet them, officials said.
In early June, Lee wrote personal letters to many IOC members, with each note touching on those members' personal ties and friendship with him, officials said. Those letters were delivered not by mail, but in person by special envoys or ambassadors, they said.
"Some IOC members said they were deeply moved by the letters and said they wanted to meet with Lee in Durban," the official said.
Lee also sought to speak by phone with as many IOC members as possible, officials said.
Some calls were made at night from his residence, considering the time difference between Seoul and the IOC members' home bases, officials said. As some IOC members were difficult to reach, Lee sometimes walked out of his meetings when aides succeeded in getting them on the line, they said.
"We were able to set up phone calls with some members after about 10 attempts," one official said.
In one instance, Lee recorded a message on one IOC member's answering machine after four failed attempts to call. In the voice mail, he said that he appreciated the member's support for PyeongChang and hoped to see him in Durban, officials said.
"After that, we were able to set up a phone call with that member," the official said.
Officials declined to identify which IOC members Lee has met or spoken to.
In February, an IOC team visited PyeongChang to inspect the city's preparations for the Olympics. Lee traveled to the snow-prone town, some 180 km east of Seoul, and pledged to the IOC inspection team that South Korea would provide full support for PyeongChang.
Lee also replaced the phoenix emblem emblazoned on the presidential jet with PyeongChang's slogans -- "PyeongChang2018" and "New Horizons" -- so that he could be photographed with them as soon as he stepped out of his jet upon his arrival in Durban.
The phoenix symbolizes the presidency in South Korea.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak holds an interview with major global news outlets in Durban, South Africa, on July 4. (Yonhap)
In Durban, Lee also held a joint interview with major global news organizations, including The Associated Press, stressing that it is one of his "duties" to deliver the 2018 Winter Olympics to PyeongChang and that South Korea's hosting of the Games will be a great boon for promoting winter sports in Asia.
In the run-up to the IOC vote, foreign news reports have widely said that PyeongChang is the front-runner in the largely two-way race with Munich, with Annecy trailing the two from a distance. But Lee has repeatedly cautioned against any complacency.
"There should be no mistake until the end," Lee told aides during a strategy meeting earlier this week. "Sincerity moves heaven. Let's move heaven."