After Sochi: What To Expect At the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games

With the Sochi Games coming to a close, it’s time to pass the torch. Or more accurately in this case – the Olympic Flag. At Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, the Mayor of Sochi will pass the flag to the mayor of the town of PyeongChang, South Korea where the Winter Olympic Games will reconvene in four years’ time.

Say goodbye to the palm trees, Russian Vodka and the Sochi 2014 Polar Bear mascot; say hello to snowy and chilly weather, Korean Soju and yet-to-be-named mascots.

Indeed, and in stark contrast to the Sochi experience – Korea will be holding a weather-true Winter Games. That will be among several differences that will make the PyeongChang experience different from both Sochi and Vancouver.

For one, the heart of the Games – where the ceremonies, medals plaza, broadcast centre and main Olympic Village are situated – will be in the mountain cluster (anchored by the Alpensia Winter Sport Resort) where snow and sliding events are hosted. A coastal cluster located about one hour away in seaside Gangneung will host ice events.

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies will be held about two kilometres from the Alpensia, in the Hoenggye Olympic Park where there will be a temporary 50,000 seat stadium, restaurants, shopping, cultural activities and presumably the iconic cauldron and Olympic Rings.

Will it be winter?

The Opening Ceremonies of February 9, 2018 will very likely be amid snow and cold. PyeongChang, in Korea’s Gangwon Province, is located in the Taebaek Mountain Range between 700 and 800 metres above sea level. The February daily mean temperature is below -5 degrees Celsius with daily highs rarely above freezing. And yes, there is plenty of snow.

In 2011, just prior to the February 15 arrival of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to evaluate PyeongChang’s bid, close to 100 cm of snow fell across Gangneung and major accumulations covered all venue locations surrounding PyeongChang. Military personnel were called in to help clear the snow.

In coastal Gangneung with a population of over 200,000, the daily mean temperature is about 2.2 degrees Celsius.

Is it all built?

The construction effort for the PyeongChang 2018 Games will be significantly less than what was required for Sochi. Leveraging prior development and temporary venues – organizers will spend about $7 billion.

To be fair, planners in Gangwon Province spent millions of dollars on venues to prepare for the Olympics even prior to being awarded the Games. PyeongChang unsuccessfully bid for the 2010 and 2014 Games, but during the bid campaigns organizers promised the IOC that some venues would be built anyways in order to develop winter sport in the region. Though this rhetoric is common among bid campaigns, the Koreans delivered and earned the trust necessary to win their bid for 2018 Games.

The build was significant and included a ski-jump tower and stadium, biathlon and cross-country venues and the complete Alpensia sports resort that provides accommodations for guests and the Olympic Family, as well as space for the sliding facilities.

Six mountain cluster venues already exist and only two – the alpine downhill and sliding track – are under construction.

In the coastal cluster the curling venue already exists as a community skating rink and will be refurbished for the Games. Four new ice rinks will be built for hockey, figure skating and speed skating that will leave a valuable legacy in the town known for its national university, and become a training centre for South Korea’s powerful speed-skating team.

While the plans are very compact compared to many previous Winter Games, most venues are not easily walkable like those in Sochi’s ultra-compact coastal cluster – that’s what $51 billion buys.

Although there is a small international airport nearby, most travellers will be serviced by Korea’s Incheon Airport close to Seoul. On the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, Incheon is at least three hours by car from PyeongChang and four hours from east coast Gangnueng. But under construction for the Games is a new high-speed rail system that promises a once-way trip from the airport to the Olympic Park in just over one hour.

What’s are the security issues?

Like any other high profile international event and any other Olympics, there will be security concerns on the big stage. Security will need to rigid and comprehensive.

Sochi is near the Chechnya border where rebel factions threatened terrorist strikes against the Games; South Korea is technically still at war with its neighbour North Korea, with the demilitarized zone (DMZ) a stone’s throw from the Olympic venue clusters. Though a truce was declared to end the Korean War, the two nations have been at odds and various threats continue to exist.

Unlike with Chechnya, North Korea doesn’t pose a terrorist style threat – but one that would be military in nature. While the thought of that may seem unpleasant, it wouldn’t likely be a surprise strike and there would be little impact on typical venue security. Should tensions increase running up to the Games, anticipate that military assets will be put in place to counter any threat.

Can they do the job?

Expect the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games to be impressive, and successful. Koreans take the Olympic Games, and their athletes very seriously and they have already proven that they are capable of delivering world class venues.

Along with the construction of the ski jump stadium and skiing venues that began at the outset of the second failed Winter Games bid, in 2005 the Korean sports ministry quietly started to build the Jincheon National Training Center. This impressive 400 acre complex has facilities to train athletes in many winter and summer sport disciplines and is likely the best of its kind in the world.

PyeongChang itself has already successfully hosted world cup ski events and in 2013 hosted the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Prepare to meet again in PyeonChang in 2018.

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