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2015-02-09 20:08
A view from the ski jumping tracks in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province.
/ Korea Times by Nam Hyun-woo

By Nam Hyun-woo



PYEONGCHANG, Gangwon Province ― The organizers of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games and officials at Gangwon Province invited reporters to a ceremony commemorating the three-year countdown to the Winter Olympics, Monday, but there still appear to be problems with the central  and provincial governments.

“The 2018 Olympics will open in exactly three years from today. And from today, our preparation work enters the second phase,” said Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon. “The first phase of building the venues is going well. We will do our best to showcase the world our ability to manage the Games,” he said.

The Winter Olympics start their 17-day run on Feb. 9, 2018, in PyeongChang, Jungseon and Gangneung. Though three years remain before the Games come to Korea for the first time, organizers say “time is running out” given that a number of test events will be staged at some venues from next year.

However, the preparation work is not going as smoothly as they say.

For the Games, Gangwon Province is building six new venues ― the Jeongseon Alpine and Alpensia Sliding centers, Gyeongpo Oval, Gangneung Ice Arena, and Yulgok and Kwandong hockey centers. According to the organizers, the completion rates of the venues are all below 20 percent.

Jeongseon Alpine Center is 8 percent completed so far. Officials are trying to get the venue 80 percent completed by 2016, but the International Ski Federation Alpine Skiing World Cup is scheduled on Feb. 6, 2016, as a test event, sparking concern that it could be held in an unfinished venue.

Gangneung Ice Arena is also only 8 percent completed currently and its test event is also scheduled in February next year.

Gangwon Province officials say more money is required to speed up construction. “However, the central government is still trying to cut its subsidy,” said a high-ranking official at Gangwon Province's headquarters for the Games.

The discord could also be seen at the ceremony. Initially, Culture Sports and Tourism Minister Kim Jong-deok was set to visit the Alpensia Sliding Center, but hours before the ceremony, the organizers announced Kim Jong, the second vice minister, would attend instead.

“Korea still lacks proper training facilities for winter sports,” Kim said. “The government seeks to nurture Gangwon Province as not only a legacy of the 2018 Games but also a Mecca for winter sports in Asia. For that, the government, Gangwon Province and PyeongChang organizers are combining their different plans and an outcome is expected in May.”

Governor Choi also acknowledged the discord between the government, Gangwon Province and the organizers. “It is true that there has been disharmony because the relevant organizations are not that old,” he said.  

“Getting North Korea to join the Games is very important and the only option we can take is to form a joint team. For that, I believe the team should be named within this year in order to train together and reap a good outcome at the event. For that, I ask government officials to look into this issue,” Choi added.

On Monday, temperatures in Gangwon Province plummeted below zero, with a blizzard ferociously hampering outdoor activities. However, some 500 participants actively joined the celebration, which included a mock opening ceremony, showing aspirations for the success of the Games.

“As you can see, our hope for the success of the 2018 Olympics is big,” a participant said. “I hope the leaders (of the government, Gangwon Province and the PyeongChang organizers) will prepare the event well enough to befit our aspirations,” she said.

The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games President Cho Yang-ho said he will “do his utmost for the success of the Games,” urging public interest in the event.

Hours before the ceremony, the organizers opened ski jumps to the media. Located in the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center, these have ignited safety concerns because of strong winds blowing from nearby mountains.

On Monday, a number of reporters who climbed to the top of the jumps also faced strong winds. An official from Gangwon Province said shields will be installed at the side of jumps, but this was not so convincing, given that the winds were blowing from the rear of the jumps.

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