It was third time lucky for the South Korean county of Pyeongchang at the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) 123rd Session, held in the South African city of Durban on July 6, 2011. After just one round of secret balloting, Pyeongchang was chosen to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, handily beating out Munich in Germany and Annecy in France. Pyeongchang had bid to host both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, losing out first time around to Vancouver and then very narrowly to Sochi in Russia.
The XXIII Olympic Winter Games are scheduled to run February 9 to 25, 2018. As is usual, the Winter Paralympics will use the same venues soon after the Winter Olympics conclude. What are officially known as the XII Paralympic Winter Games will be held from March 9 to 18, 2018. These will be the third Winter Games held in Asia, following Sapporo in Japan in 1972 and Nagano, also in Japan, in 1998. Soon after the venue was confirmed, the South Korean authorities issued a special stamp to promote the event (see below)
This will be the first Winter Games held in South Korea, although not the first Olympics on Korean soil. In 1988 Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the XXIV Olympiad. Those Games were a great success. Unlike the three previous Summer Games, the 1988 Olympics weren't undermined by a major boycott (although North Korea didn't attend after its demand to host some events was rebuffed; nor for various reasons did Cuba, Albania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Nicaragua). Some 159 nations were represented by 6,197 men and 2,194 women. In the 1988 Summer Games, South Korea won 12 gold medals, more than any other country except the Soviet Union, East Germany and the USA.
Pyeongchang-gun (county) is in Gangwon province, about 180km east of the capital Seoul. The population is just under 44,000. The terrain here is very rugged due to the mineral-rich Taebaek Mountains, a range which runs more than 500km from north to south. Among the higher peaks are Mount Seoraksan (1,708m or 5,603 feet), surrounded by a national park of the same name, and the slightly lower Mount Kumgangsan and Mount Taebaeksan.
The average daily highest temperature in Pyeongchang in February is 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit), while the average daily low temperature is minus 7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit). Precipitation is minimal, around 30mm total during the month.
Pyeongchang has long been a tourist favorite, and not only because of its mountains and winter-sports facilities. The region has several important Buddhist temples, the most famous of which is Woljeongsa, founded in 643AD.
Potential highlights of the 2018 Winter Olympics
No new sports will be added to the roster in 2018, the IOC having confirmed back in 2010 that the sports program of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games would be the same as the one at the previous Games in Sochi. In other words, the seven core sports - skiing, skating, luge, ice hockey, curling, bobsliegh and tobogganing, plus biathlon - will remain in place. Ski orienteering, to the disappointment of its supporters, won't make an appearance until 2022 at the earliest.
Some of those who made big splashes at Sochi certainly won't appear at Pyeongchang, Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau being one. In 2014, the Montreal native, who was born in 1987, became the first person ever to defend a Winter Games freestyle-skiing title. Yuna Kim, the queen of the South Korean figure-skating scene, is unlikely to compete because of age. The twice world champion be approaching 28 when the Games commence, and has already gained one Olympic gold (in 2010) and one silver (at Sochi).Credit: Creative Commons
American figure-skating duo and Sochi gold medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White haven't yet said whether they'll try to retain the title they won in Sochi. But there's an excellent chance Mikaela Shiffrin (shown in action above) will compete, as age is on her side. In 2014, she became the youngest slalom champion in Olympic alpine skiing history. On the day of her victory, Shiffrin was about three weeeks' shy of her 19th birthday.
Credit: Creative CommonsFigure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya (pictured left; her given name is sometimes spelled "Julia") also has plenty of time to achieve great things. She was 15 years, 249 days old when she won gold as part of the triumphant Russian team. Lipnitskaya placed fifth in the individual event, and is tipped by many for greatness at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Another star of Sochi likely to return in 2018 is snowboarding halfpipe gold medallist Iouri Podladtchikov. Aged 25 at the time of his victory - and nicknamed iPod on account of his first initial and surname - he was born in Russia. He represented Russia in the XX Olympic Winter Games, held in Turin, Italy. For the past several years, however, he has been competing on behalf of Switzerland, where he also lives.
Some 88 nations sent athletes to Sochi, more than in any previous Winter Games. There's potential to break this record in 2018, because a few countries which were present in the 2010 Games chose not to send anyone to the 2014 Games (Algeria, Colombia and South Africa being notable examples). North Korea, which joined 2010's Vancouver Winter Olympics but didn't send a delegation to Sochi, is unlikely to attend.
Athletes representing the host country almost always do significantly better than when they're competing far from home, so South Korea can look forward to winning more than the three gold medals, three silvers and two broznes they garnered in 2014.
The Olympics have become synonymous with cost overruns and poor value-for-money. According to International Business Times: "The facilities in Sochi were not up to par, even though they were the most expensive Olympics in history. Russia spent US$51 billion on the 17-day event, surpassing the US$40 billion spent for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games."
Infrastructure built for the Sochi Games included roads, railroads, and a power plant. For the Winter Games held four years earlier in Vancouver, around US$8 billion was spent. According to news reports, South Korea has budgeted US$1.5 billion for the holding of the Games themselves, and up to US$6 billion for infrastructure projects, among them a high-speed railroad which will cut travel time between Seoul and Pyeongchang to around 50 minutes. However, the authorities have backtracked on suggestions the bullet train will go all the way to Incheon International Airport, the country's busiest point of entry.
Domestic and international animal-welfare activists are likely to use to 2018 Winter Games to pressure the South Korea government to outlaw or curtail the trade in dog meat. In recent years around two million canines cats per annun have been turned into food, much to the outrage of dog lovers around the world. The biggest known unknown is, of course, North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK). Will the secretic dictatorship in Pyongyang try to disrupt the 2018 Winter Olympics? Or will the unpredictable Kim Jong-un surprise the world by embracing the Olympic spirit and sending a delegation of sportsmen and women to the XXIII Winter Games? The outside world probably won't know until the last minute.