IOC panel praises progress in Pyeongchang bid
Pyeongchang showed passion and progress in unveiling its third
bid to host the Winter Olympics, an International Olympic Committee
panel said Saturday.
Gunilla Lindberg, chair of the 14-member IOC evaluation
commission visiting South Korea this week, noted strides made in
building winter sports facilities in the country’s northeastern
mountains and praised the ”passionate support” displayed
throughout the week by cheering residents and the government.
She dismissed concerns raised about the safety of holding the
2018 Winter Olympics on the Korean peninsula, saying sports can
also prove a ”force for the good.”
South Korea and North Korea have technically been in a state of
war since 1953, when their three-year conflict ended in a truce,
not a peace treaty. The heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone runs
straight through Gangwon, the province where Pyeongchang is
The IOC visit comes less than three months after a North Korean
artillery attack on an island in disputed western waters killed
four South Koreans, and nearly a year after the deadly sinking of a
warship that Seoul blames on the North.
South Korea’s minister for culture, sports and tourism, Choung
Byoung-gug, said on Saturday the panel asked how inter-Korean
dialogue was progressing, but not about security concerns.
”We’ve had this situation for the past 60 years with North
Korea,” Lindberg said at a news conference. ”During that time,
(South) Korea has hosted the Olympic Summer Games, the World
University Games, the Asian Games and other events and
It’s the third time the once-sleepy town of Pyeongchang – not to
be confused with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea – is
campaigning to host the Winter Olympics.
In 2003, Pyeongchang lost its first bid to Vancouver. In 2007,
the Winter Olympics went to Sochi, Russia. This time, it’s a matter
of national pride, Choung said.
The committee regrouped with support and input from the
government and powerful business backers, including Cho Yang-ho,
the Korean Air CEO who serves as chairman of the Pyeongchang 2018
organizing committee, and Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee.
Four years ago, the IOC panel stood on an empty field as the
Pyeongchang committee described its dream venues. On Saturday, they
spoke at a news conference held inside a gleaming convention center
at the $1.5 billion Alpensia ski resort.
Winter sports have boomed in South Korea in the past four years,
the product of a growing leisure class in the increasingly
prosperous Asian nation. In 1999, there were only 11 ski resorts in
South Korea; now there are at least 17, according to the Korea Ski
Resort Business Association.
In 2002, South Korea came away from the Salt Lake Winter Games
with just four Olympic medals, Lindberg noted. In 2010, the haul of
14 medals, crowned by Kim Yu-na’s figure skating gold, was the best
among Asian nations.
Pyeongchang organizers, who envision transforming Pyeongchang
into a winter sports hub for all of Asia, showed off six venues and
said blueprints have been drawn to build seven others if the city
wins the IOC vote in Durban, South Africa, in July.
Local residents showed their support by turning out in droves to
welcome the IOC panel. Undeterred by record snowfall, hundreds
lined the streets with flags and banners on Monday. Scores kept up
the giddy welcome throughout four days of site inspections at
Alpensia and in the coastal city of Gangneung.
”During our site visits, it has been wonderful to see so many
people showing their support to bring the Winter Olympic Games here
to Korea,” Lindberg said.
She also praised the strong government support for the bid.
President Lee Myung-bak and several cabinet ministers traveled to
Pyeongchang, 110 miles northeast of Seoul, to meet the panel.
However, the campaign has not been without controversy. Last
month, the governor of Gangwon Province, Lee Kwang-jae, was
stripped of his position after being convicted of corruption. In
late 2009, Samsung’s Lee was granted a special presidential pardon
from a suspended sentence for illegal financial dealings so he
could rejoin the Pyeongchang bid.
The South Korea visit is the second in the evaluation
commission’s tour of 2018 bidders. They were in Annecy, France,
last week, and head to Munich next. The panel’s technical
evaluations of the three bids will be made public in May.
Haeran Hyun contributed to this report from Seoul, South