It’s not only the athletes who are counting the days until the next Olympic Games – the South Korean hosts can also hardly wait for the two-week event to kick off in the Pyeongchang region on February 9, 2018. The Games will see 2,800 professional sportsmen and sportswomen compete for medals across 15 different winter sports. To ensure that conditions on the ground are absolutely perfect, the majority of venues are being built from scratch. The Republic of Korea, which is roughly the size of the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg combined, is committed to putting on a spectacular show with the eyes of the world watching in February 2018.
Venues both in the mountains and on the coast
You may not be aware that 70% of South Korea is actually covered by mountains and that winter can see up to two and a half meters of snow build up in some places. The country’s 17 ski areas are also very popular. The top resorts in the north-eastern Pyeongchang region are between 700 and 1,600 metres above sea level, so conditions on the mountain are likely to be ideal when the Olympics come to town.
South Korea is currently spending a great deal of money to ensure that the rest also falls into place. All 12 of the venues are either being fundamentally overhauled or completely built from scratch. On top of that, an impressive stadium for the opening and closing ceremony is being built, as are two Olympic villages, a large media centre for thousands of journalists, several motorways and even a high-speed train line which connects the Olympic venues to the capital Seoul in just one hour. This journey had previously taken three times as long.
Previous Experience hosting the Summer Olympics and World Cup
South Korea and its 50 million inhabitants have already proven that they are more than capable of hosting major sporting events. In 1988, the capital Seoul held the Olympics Games and in summer 2002 the best footballers worldwide descended on the peninsula for the FIFA World Cup. South Korea benefitted enormously from both events as a centre of industry and tourism, and 2018 is not likely to be any different. The likely long-term benefits also mean that the authorities don’t mind the country racking up some debt in preparing for the Winter Olympics.
Passion.Connected and the Olympic Mascots
The Winter Olympic Games from 9 to 25 February and the Winter Paralympics from 9 to 18 March 2018 are being held under the slogan “Passion.Connected”. While the coastal city of Gangneung is hosting the ice-based events across five stadiums with capacities of up to 12,000, the mountains around Pyeongchang are playing host to the remaining events. Venues include the Alpensia Resort (ski jumping, biathlon, cross-country, Nordic combined, bobsled, luge and skeleton), the existing Yongpyong ski area (giant slalom and slalom), the newly created slopes in Jeongseon (downhill, super-G and combined) as well as Bokwang Phoenix Park (freestyle skiing and snowboard). All the venues already hosted test events during the 2016/17 season as part of the respective world cup tours, allowing the top athletes to gain an insight into the conditions they can expect for the Games.
Tiger and Bear as Olympic Mascots
The Games’ mascots are already working hard at advertising the games throughout the nation: the white tiger Soohorang and the black bear Bandabi. They smile down from huge billboards in the nation’s cities and welcomed athletes and visitors alike at this winter’s world cup events. The appearance of both mascots picks up on elements of Korean and Asian culture, and their names even reference these origins. “Sooho” within the Tiger’s name stands for protection and a sense of security – something which it is hoped all athletes, viewers and other participants will feel during the Games. The black bear, with a crescent moon on its chest, is intended to symbolise the courage and strong will of the Korean people.
Lots of televised events in the morning
The Olympic Games will get underway on Friday, 9 February 2017 with the opening ceremony in the new Olympic Stadium close to the Alpensia Sports Park. The following day sees the women’s skiathlon event held, with the first medals already being decided. The event begins at 4.15 pm local time, which is only 8.15 am in Central Europe due to the considerable time difference. A preliminary events schedule – broken down by sport – for the Winter Olympic Games 2018 is available here.
Traveling to South Korea
If you want to avoid those early morning starts and experience the Winter Olympics live for yourself, South Korea is definitely a great option. No other Asian country is as western-oriented and well-organised as South Korea. You certainly won’t need to worry about any chaotic arrangements, language difficulties or poor-quality hotels. The locals are warm and open, and place great emphasis on appearances. Aside from the delicious Korean culinary specialities (caution: often very spicy), most towns offer options for western food. The seasons here are similar to Central Europe, with cold winters and hot summers.
Visitors will not likely even notice the political tensions with the “difficult neighbours” North Korea, a dictatorship separated from South Korea by a border strip. It is only in Gangneung, where the ice events are being held, that some restricted areas on the beach may be noticeable. There is certainly no danger for tourists. However, it is admittedly easy to mix up the names of the South Korean Olympics region Pyeongchang with the North Korean capital Pyongyang.