|Kim Jin-sun, president of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organizing committee, listens to a question during an interview with The Korea Times at his office in Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
I happened to be standing near Kim Jin-sun in what he now describes as the darkest moment in his 15 years involved with PyeongChang's Olympic effort.
|Kim Jin-sun, then the Gangwon Province governor, leaves a conference room at the Real InterContinental Hotel in Guatemala City, on July 4, 2007, after the IOC selected Russia's Sochi over PyeongChang as the host for the 2014 Winter|
Olympics. / Korea Times file
|Kim, then ambassador for the PyeongChang bid, reacts after then-IOC President Jacques Rogge announced the city as the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics during the 123rd IOC meeting on July 6, 2011, in Durban, South Africa. |
Of all airports, the plane had to stop over in Vancouver, the Canadian city that narrowly edged PyeongChang in the 2003 IOC vote to win the rights for the 2010 Games.
At the terminal's densely crowded smoking room, Kim, then the chain-smoking Gangwon Province governor with a thicker hairline and more intensity in his speech, stared searchingly for an answer, his gaze fixed somewhere between the herd of heads and the high ceiling.
"Reporters keep asking me whether we would give it a third try,'' Kim told his senior officials after taking a few puffs, probably aware that a number of journalists were within earshot.
"So what shall I say?''
Kim had arrived in Guatemala describing the IOC vote as a last stand as it was highly uncertain PyeongChang would be allowed a third Olympic bid considering domestic politics.
Korea's southwestern town of Muju had been insisting for years that it deserved a shot at the Winter Olympics as much as PyeongChang did. Busan, the southeast mega port, had aspirations for hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, and voiced concerns about the divergence of national efforts.
Kim's advisors spoke more quietly than he did. Kim finished by speechifying on conviction, which betrayed a face shaped by dejection.
"We will make a third attempt to honor the passion shown by Koreans and the many members in the IOC who supported us. I think this is our answer for now,'' said Kim, his voice lacking his usual boom.
Fortunately for Kim, the third time proved to be the charm. After surviving a painful, political struggle to represent Korea's Olympic bid again, PyeongChang finally landed the 2018 Games at the IOC vote in Durban, South Africa, in 2011.
When recalling the conversation of seven years ago, Kim, now president of PyeongChang's Olympic organizing committee, a job he manages to do without the help of cigarettes, laughed with the weariness of a man who has seen it all.
"That was my most difficult moment. That was a moment of self-doubt and soul-searching. There was so much uncertainty,'' Kim said at his spacious, 28th-floor office in central Seoul in a recent interview with The Korea Times.
"The sense of loss was great, because we had been fully expecting to win in Guatemala City. The sense of doubt and fatigue from Gangwon Province people, and the nation as a whole, was evident. I was worried that, even if we do get another shot as an Olympic-bid city, our efforts would never have the same drive again,'' he continued.
"We had our share of critics and I needed to convince them that PyeongChang deserved another shot. I was asking myself fundamental questions as to why Korea needed to host another Olympics and how it could reshape the country and Gangwon Province region for years to come. It was a painful time for me, but I think I came out with stronger determination.''
Kim now wonders whether PyeongChang winning the rights to host the 2018 Games instead of the 2010 and 2014 events was a blessing in disguise.
Korea seems to be on course for a winter-sports renaissance, evidenced by the large number of people congesting ski resorts and children swarming inner-city ice rinks on weekends.
PyeongChang's succession of Olympic bids and the brilliance of Olympic champions like figure-skater Kim Yu-na and speed-skater Lee Sang-hwa have certainly contributed to the phenomenon.
Kim believes that the country developing a lucrative winter sports market will help the PyeongChang Olympics leave a lasting, positive legacy after the party leaves town.
There had been dreaded examples of Olympic host cities crippled by costs in the following years, but Kim claims that PyeongChang's economic aspirations of boosting tourism will have a better shot at being realized.
Russia is spending an unprecedented $50 billion on completely revamping its faded Black Sea resort for the Olympics. At least for now, PyeongChang officials believe they could manage with just one-fifth of that budget.
Much of PyeongChang's critical investment projects, such as the building of the high-speed rail network between Wonju and Gangneung, are cohesive with existing regional development plans.
Kim also points out that the concentration of sporting and convention facilities, which are taking hold as the Games move closer, have already resulted in a visible boost in leisure and business visitors.
"In 1999, when I first announced the intention to bid for the Olympics as governor, Gangwon Province was getting 230,000 foreign visitors per year. Now, the number is 1.5 million. The Olympics will help Gangwon realize its potential as a tourist destination,'' Kim said.
"It's very difficult to book our ski resorts on the weekends and our Alpensia Resort has become a very busy convention venue. We were adding elements that didn't exist in the region and these elements have been driving demand.''
Kim believes that PyeongChang and other Gangwon resort towns could establish a niche as an accessible, winter sports destination for Asians.
"I think we can encourage more foreign tourists to PyeongChang and the wider region after the Olympics. Winter sports have more room for growth in Asian than in North America and Europe, and I think we are ideally positioned to exploit that opportunity.''
At the time of the interview, Kim was busy preparing for a visit to Sochi, the previous source of his misery. He and 150 other members of PyeongChang's organizing committee will be at next month's Olympics to participate in the IOC's ''observer program'' for knowledge transfer to the forthcoming Olympic host.
"I am not that interested about Sochi's 'hardware' side of things. The facilities, the distance between them, the transportation networks and all those things… there is nothing that we don't already know,'' Kim said.
"I think it's important that we take a close look at how Sochi officials will operate the Olympic, how they find a cohesion between the service provided by people and what is provided by their facilities, how they manage to reduce costs while maximizing the effect.
''After the Sochi Games, all eyes will be on us. We will be promoting the PyeongChang Games at Sochi, operating a 'PyeongChang' house in the Olympic village to show our advanced facilities, the increasing public passion for winter sports and the culture of our country.