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See you in PyeongChang

February 24, 2014

Gangwon Province resort town needs to be successful both in and after Olympics

South Korea artists dance around an illuminated snowman after the handing over of the next Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang, during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

South Korea artists dance around an illuminated snowman after the handing over of the next Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang, during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, left, applauds as Lee Seok-rai, mayor of Pyeongchang, waves the Olympic flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Sunday. (Yonhap)

IOC President Thomas Bach, left, applauds as Lee Seok-rai, mayor of Pyeongchang, waves the Olympic flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Sunday. (Yonhap)

By Kim Tong-hyung

After 17 days of drama and off-the-field controversy, the Sochi Olympics went into the books with a lavish ceremony on Sunday, where the Olympic flag was given to Korea as PyeongChang hosts the 2018 Games.

While they inherit the world’s attention, officials at the Gangwon Province ski resort will undoubtedly keep a close eye on what happens in Sochi in the next few years. Recent Olympic history has been characterized by bleak stories about the struggles of host cities after the party left town.

The biggest mess is Athens, the host of the 2004 Summer Games, where dozens of chain-fenced, state-of-the-art venues are now as functional as the Parthenon.

There are observers who believe that Sochi, after hosting the costliest Olympics ever, is destined to become a similar ghost town because it’s difficult to imagine the city developing a need for all the facilities that were built for the Games.

After enduring a difficult process to land the Olympics, failing to Vancouver and Sochi before succeeding on its third bid, PyeongChang officials seem to be awash in wishful thinking about the afterlife of the Olympics.

Kim Yu-na, left, who won the silver medal in the women's figure-skating, and Lee Sang-hwa, who won the gold in the women's 500-meter speed skating, pose for a photograph during the closing ceremony. (AP-Yonhap)

Kim Yu-na, left, who won the silver medal in the women’s figure-skating, and Lee Sang-hwa, who won the gold in the women’s 500-meter speed skating, pose for a photograph during the closing ceremony. (AP-Yonhap)

In a recent interview with The Korea Times, Kim Jin-sun, the president of PyeongChang’s organizing committee, downplayed concerns about the Olympic facilities becoming a financial albatross for the city.

While Russia spent more than $50 billion on completely revamping Sochi, which had been a fading Black Sea resort, for the Olympics, PyeongChang officials for now believe they could manage with just one-fifth of that budget.

Kim pointed out that many of the large investment projects, such as the high-speed rail line that could cut commute to one hour between Seoul and PyeongChang, were planned ahead in regional development policies and the Games were merely being used as the catalyst.

However, Kim admitted to the need of more detailed plans on how the facilities will be used after the Olympics and strategies to consistently lure more tourists.

The track record of ”small town’’ hosts like PyeongChang experiencing meaningful boosts in tourist numbers after the Olympics isn’t too great and a significant growth in winter sports would be required to justify all the investment in gaming and accommodation facilities.

”We are devoted to making PyeongChang 2018 an Olympics that is economically effective,’’ he said.

”It’s obvious that Asia has much more room for growth in winter sports and leisure compared to Europe and North America and the Olympics allows us to be ideally positioned to exploit the window of opportunity. The priority is to organize the best Games ever, and that will be critical in building the foundation for Asia’s new sports and tourism hub.’’

PyeongChang will be looking to duplicate the successes of Barcelona and Lillehammer, cities that have effectively used the Olympics to quicken needed improvement in infrastructure and elevated their profile as tourism destinations. However, it seems that cautionary tales outnumber the optimistic examples.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greets Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won in the presidential lounge before the Olympic closing ceremony. (AP-Yonhap)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greets Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won in the presidential lounge before the Olympic closing ceremony. (AP-Yonhap)

”Lillehammer was even a smaller city than PyeongChang. The distance between Lillehammer and Norwegian capital of Oslo is greater than the distance between Seoul and PyeongChang. However, they pulled off a successful Olympics by being smart and effective and we will be looking to do the same,’’ Kim told reporters in Sochi.

”In terms of gaming venues and other facilities, we will thrive to be the most compact and effective Olympics there ever was.’’

On the sidelines of the Olympic closing ceremony, Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Sochi to discuss ways to share the Russian know-how to help PyeongChang prepare for 2018.

”I hope we become a successful case where host countries of the Olympics become close friends through close cooperation in the sports field,’’ Chung said, according to the Prime Minister’s office.

In response, Putin said he “expects the PyeongChang games to be a successful event,” as the city is “ready to be host.’’

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