Last week’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission visit to PyeongChang, South Korea went well according to both the IOC and the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic bid team. Here are some of the remaining items in my PyeongChang notebook that didn’t make the news.
L’eau faux pas
At the final IOC press conference on Saturday, members of the Evaluation Commission and the PyeongChang bid team were provided with water at their seats nearest to the stage. Their workstations were equipped with ‘Evian’ brand bottles of water; spring water sourced from France. Some sharp-sighted organizer must have noticed (or heard my remarks about) the inappropriate tribute to PyeongChang’s French competitor Annecy and quickly swapped the bottles for a Korean brand – just before the start of the conference (see photo).
Where are you Yu-Na?
The most imporant living asset to PyeongChang’s bid is arguably Yu-Na Kim, the current reigning ladies figure skating Olympic Champion. Yu-Na is a superstar in South Korea, and according to Time magazine she was one of the most influential sports women of the year in 2010. In addition to work in many commercials, dabbling as a pop singer and her figure skating career, she is an ambassador for the bid. So where was Yu-Na last week?
While she was prominent on several billboards promoting the bid around Korea, featured on posters around the proposed Olympic venues and visible in many bid documents – she wasn’t available to charm the IOC members in person.
But don’t worry, the buzz is that the bid may be saving her for last – to cause excitement at the bid’s final presentation in Durban in July. It could be a final shot at Munich who’s CEO is Germany’s ice queen, Katarina Witt.
Koreans seem obsessed with caricature – at least when it has to do with the IOC Evaluation Commission. At various points around PyeongChang and the neighbouring region local residents crowded the sides of roadways to loudly greet the visiting dignitaries – and to present them with images of themselves.
At a skating rink in Gangneung people carried placards with drawn images of all 14 Commission members. At a beach in Gangneung excited ‘fans’ wore drawn masks of those members they were trying to impress. This was also a habit during the country’s 2014 bid. Did the IOC team like seeing themselves, cheering for themsleves? Well, it did make them smile.
The visible public support in PyeongChang for the Olympic bid is quite astonishing. While the IOC reports that a poll showed 93% public support, one has to wonder if that number is erroneously low.
Sure, the sea of Yes! PyeongChang flags and banners in and around PyeongChang on homes, businesses, streets and people can be set up by the bid committee – but the kind of passion and emotion that was exhibited by people on the street cannot be staged. Even casual chats with residents, away from the hordes of people who gathered to greet the commission, revealed that there was a huge desire to host these Games.
Commission Chairperson Gunilla Lindberg Spoke of the passionate people who came out to support the bid and bid CEO Yang Ho Cho said the IOC were impressed by the choir of 2018 voices that sang as one at a Gangneung skating arena, apparently after training for only two weeks.
Supporters even grabbed members of the international media to pose for photographs with them, and offered hugs in thanks.
As part of the evaluation process, the IOC offers to listen to any publicly recognized opposition group to hear their complaints. No such group requested this opportunity in Korea.
The IOC has put in place strict rules regarding media access during the technical evaluation – no press or photographers are permitted during closed-door meetings and at venue presentations. But tenacious Korean photographers actively sought out locations where the IOC would be and turned out in droves to capture coveted images of the action. News images showed the Commission members on rooftops, shot from another rooftop, or through whatever narrow opening was available.
At one point, foreign media inappropriately entered a presentation area and were quickly shoed away by bid committee representatives. But that’s okay – the choir in Gangneung did a repeat performance of Abba’s “I have a dream” for their benefit.