Updated: Sunday, 23 February 2014 11:02 | By Agence France-Presse

Pyeongchang confident of avoiding Sochi slip-ups

Few countries have followed the Winter Olympics with the same intensity as the 2018 host, South Korea, which is desperate to avoid the controversies that tainted the run-up to the Games in Sochi.


Pyeongchang confident of avoiding Sochi slip-ups

South Korean students wave flags as they arrive at a ski jump stadium after a cross-country march to support a third time bid by alpine resort Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics, on July 6, 2011 - by Jung Yeon-Je

On a purely sporting level, the Games ended on a sour note for South Korean fans, who felt their figure skating idol Kim Yu-Na was robbed of a repeat gold by poor judging.

About two million people have signed an online petition demanding a review of the long programme scores that saw home favourite Adelina Sotnikova leapfrog Kim for the gold medal.

After the competition, Kim confirmed her intention to retire, dashing any faint domestic hopes that she might consider a swansong at the 2018 Games to be held in the northeastern South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

Sporting achievement aside, the Olympics in Sochi offered South Korea a touchstone for gauging its own level of preparedness. 

One improvement the Pyeongchang organisers are sure they can deliver on is the snow -- more of it.

While temperatures in Sochi touched 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) Pyeongchang is a genuine winter resort with Alpine snow conditions.

Pyeongchang organising committee chief Kim Jin-Sun said the 2018 Olympics would be a huge boost for winter sports in the region.

"In Asia, winter sports are relatively under-developed compared with Europe and North America," he said.

"But recently the interest in winter sports and related industries has grown dramatically. Asia has a great potential to become a huge market for winter sports. In that sense I believe Pyeongchang will offer a window of opportunity for Asia."

The Sochi Games were the most expensive ever, with a price tag of about $50 billion that would make any potential host city think twice before putting its name forward.

But they were essentially built from scratch, and the bulk of that inflated budget went on infrastructure, including roads, railways, hotels and other long-term regeneration projects.

Pyeongchang, by contrast, has most support facilities in place, and its infrastructure budget is $7.0 billion, which includes a high-speed rail link between Seoul and Pyeongchang.

- Games chiefs confident --

"I'm confident that we will be able to make our preparations fairly smoothly over the next four years," said Lee Byung-Nam, a senior member of the Pyeongchang preparation committee, who was one of scores of South Korean officials monitoring the handling of the Games in Sochi.

"There were some difficulties in telecommunication services, and we will definitely improve this in Pyeongchang," Lee said.

South Korea prides itself on being one of the most wired nations on earth with superfast broadband speeds across the country.

Organising chief Kim said the world would see a remarkable transformation since the Seoul Summer Olympics in 1988 when South Korea was a "developing country".

"Just one generation later in 2018 the world will be able to see a truly developed country of Korea through the Games," he said.

The Pyeongchang organisers watching Sochi were also made acutely aware of the dangers of last-minute preparation.

With no real sporting activity to report on, pre-competition media coverage of the Games -- including the South Korean media -- focused in gleeful detail on the shortcomings of the press and athlete accommodation.

"Despite the gigantic investment it poured into this project, it ended up with shoddy construction that irritated many," said the sports supplement of South Korea's largest circulation newspaper, the Dong-A Ilbo.

"This is something our Pyeongchang organisers should keep in mind," it cautioned.

Politically, South Korea will also have taken note of the ripples the unrest in Ukraine sent towards Sochi.

Pyeongchang is a relative stone's throw away from the world's last great Cold War frontier -- the heavily militarised border with North Korea.

North-South Korea relations are currently enjoying a tentative thaw, but precedent shows that military tensions can surge to dangerous levels in a very short space of time.

South Korea's Olympic officials say there have been no talks so far with North Korea about forming a joint team for the games.

The two countries have never fielded a joint Olympic team, but their athletes marched together at the opening of the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics.

But Kim is keen to welcome athletes from the North. There are no North Koreans at the Sochi Games.

"I also hope four years from now North Korean athletes will be able to come to the Pyeongchang Games. If it's realised I think that's a very, very good thing."

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