Pyeongchang faces challenges ahead of Winter Olympic Games

By Lu Wen’ao in Pyeongchang Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/2 5:03:41

Ryan Stassel of the US jumps during a training session for the FIS Snowboard World Cup Big Air event at Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre in Pyeongchang on November 25. Photo: CFP

Ryan Stassel of the US jumps during a training session for the FIS Snowboard World Cup Big Air event at Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre in Pyeongchang on November 25. Photo: CFP

With just 14 months to the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang has stepped into the final phase of test events for the Winter Games, entering a key period of preparation.

The FIS World Cup of big air snowboarding on November 26 at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre marked the start of the six-month testing period, with Canadian Mark McMorris and Austrian Anna Gasser clinching the men's and women's titles, respectively.

The newly built venue was praised by the winners.

"The venue here is very cool," McMorris, who was an Olympic bronze medalist in slopestyle in 2014, told the Global Times. "They have great atmosphere here … A few things could be better with the jump, but that's why we do test events."

Big air snowboarding will make its debut at the Pyeongchang Games after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved it for the 2018 Olympics last year.

Frans van Dijk, a performance manager of the Netherlands, told the Global Times that Pyeongchang makes him feel more comfortable than Sochi, the Russian city which hosted the 2014 Winter Games.

"The food is not super different here, and most people here could speak English, so communication is good," said Van Dijk. "Though big air is new to Olympics, Pyeongchang's work is beyond my expectation."

A two-person Chinese delegation that visited Alpensia was also impressed.

"They did it great … Their operational management, the layout and their storage of snow are very impressive," said Ma Xiqiang, a member of the delegation representing the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee. "They created a great atmosphere here, which we still lack in China."

Long journey

The next test event, scheduled for December 16-18, will be the ISU World Cup of short-track speed skating - a sport dominated by South ­Koreans who have won 21 Olympic golds - in Gangneung, the ice sports venue city for the 2018 Winter Games.

Though the organizers plan to have all events within 30 minutes' drive from Alpensia in Pyeongchang, the trip to the eastern coastal city of Gangneung from South Korea's Incheon International Airport is a journey of more than 200 kilometers.

With the high-speed railway connecting Seoul and Gangneung expected to be completed in June 2017 before going into operation in December 2017, going to the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula currently takes about five hours by bus.

The ongoing scandal engulfing South Korean President Park Geun-hye has also had an impact on the preparations of the Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee, admitted Sung Baik-you, a spokesperson for the committee.

"We were affected [by the political chaos]," Sung said in a news briefing to Chinese media. "But politics and sports are separate things; it will not have a huge impact on hosting the Olympics."

Though President Park has expressed her willingness to resign, South Korea will hold its presidential election in December 2017. The new president is expected to take office on February 25, 2018, the same day the Pyeongchang Olympics will hold its closing ceremony.

High costs

The Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee witnessed a chairperson change this year, with Lee Hee-beom, former Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, replacing Cho Yang-ho, who had led the Organizing Committee since 2014.

Cho resigned in May, citing his desire to focus on his ailing company Hanjin.

Lee will start his tenure facing a mounting financial challenge in hosting the Olympics, with operational costs surging to 2.8 trillion won ($2.38 billion), and the infrastructure alone costing 11.4 trillion won.

"Chairman Lee is an expert in finance, and his taking office will help solve the financial problems we are facing," said spokesperson Sung.

The IOC had ­suggested to let Pyeongchang hold some of the events in Japan in order to avoid building new venues. The suggestion was declined by the ­Korean authorities, which wanted to bring a greater Olympic heritage to Gangwon Province.

Of the 12 competition venues, six are newly built, four of which are still under construction. The International Broadcasting Center and the ­Olympic Villages are also expected to be finished next year.

Though the mountainous province - a popular destination for Korean movie and drama productions - is considered a region with the most snow in South Korea, hosting the Winter Olympics still requires huge amounts of artificial snow to be brought in.

"We need about 250,000 square meters of artificial snow during the Olympics," Sung said, before adding that Pyeongchang is following the IOC's suggestion of preserving natural snow in the mountains.

Artificial snow is not cheap, costing about 4,500 won per square meter in Pyeongchang, which means that the total cost of the man-made snow could surpass the 1 billion won mark.

Another key date is February 2017, when tickets for the Olympics will become available a year before the Games starts.

The organizing committee has set the lowest ticket price at 20,000 won. Though the ticket revenue will be far from sufficient for Pyeongchang to break even, it will definitely go a long way in helping preparations.


Newspaper headline: Back on track


Posted in: FEATURE,OLYMPICS

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