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2017-11-15 21:11
By David Miller



It will not be snow or ice facilities that present PyeongChang’s Winter Olympic Games with a problem. It’s where to find a late-night beer, a snack and a song when the figure skating or curling has closed. Anxiety at Alpensia’s virgin Olympic resort concerns social ambience: an absent apres-ski.

As a veteran IOC member and renowned socialite artfully puts it: “How can the hosts inject their guests with cultural contentment and happiness?” Alpensia’s glorious physical gifts of nature no longer overwhelm with nightfall. I’ve been a visitor three times to this relatively remote village, including last year the opening of the Downhill course: it will take some years for PyeongChang to generate the welcoming warmth of, say, Whistler, mountain haven of Vancouver, or France’s Chamonix.

Yet the sporting omens for snow and ice fanatics are enviable ― never mind that preparatory workers are short of accommodation; that ticket sales are as yet unpromising; that completion of a high-speed rail link from Seoul has been delayed; that visiting NBC television advance strategic planners could not get late-night room service; that language exchange remains a hurdle.

The event venues at both the mountain cluster and seaside cluster at Gangneung are all first class.

 “The snow has arrived, sophisticated conditions at all venues are 95 per cent complete, there are positive comments from all international coaches,” assures Gunilla Lindberg, Swedish head of the IOC’s supervisory coordination commission.

Her opinion is echoed by Sarah Lewis, general secretary of the International Ski Federation (FIS). “All test competitions have been excellent. The new Downhill track is a superb course, created from nothing, with ideal variations of jumps and speed sections ― we’re very optimistic, the Korean Ski Association has worked really hard.”

Lewis is unfazed by gloomy spectator attendance predictions, in a nation lacking winter sports traditions. “We can only judge afterwards, figures can be dependent, say, on the weather on the day. There may not be great spectator expectation, but significant communication is achieved through television.”

Lindberg shares Lewis’s optimism. “PyeongChang is a small place, facilities for stakeholders are in place and secure, the new rail link from Seoul to Gangneung, opening in December, will reduce the journey to an hour and 15 minutes and will ease accessibility.”

PyeongChang’s organising president Lee Hee-beom remains confident languishing ticket sales will pick up; that shortage of hotel rooms will have improved by February’s opening, new hotel completion realizing 42,000 beds within a one-hour radius of Alpensia. Ticketing agencies are blamed for tour packages being expensive, sales under 50 per cent.

“Our feeling is that in some countries ticket retailers are not as active as expected,” Lee complains. We’ve had complaints from Los Angeles, New York and Washington, also from China and Japan.” He has been hoping to address this shortcoming, more particularly at home where there has been a campaign with letters to local governments and school administrators, especially it being the holiday season “and a good occasion for students.”

A continuing legal element is the insistence by the North American hockey league NHL that players will not be released. Lee has expressed, perhaps forlornly, an optimism the NHL might relent before the regulation deadline in January.

Whether PyeongChang can realise an ambition to become a winter sports hub for East Asia in addition to the two in Japan ― Sapparo and Nagano ― remains to be seen. At least Korea’s inaugural festival will have the novelty of four new disciplines ― big-air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass-start speed skating, mixed team alpine ― and the first winter games appearance of Afghanistan with two alpine skiers. The spectacular advent in 1988 of Seoul’s Summer Games may not be equalled, yet PyeongChang’s initiative must be commended, elected in 2011 at the third attempt when outvoting favourites Munich.



David Miller is author of the IOC’s Official History.

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