Kim’s rough road from an idea to an Olympic Games

“We cheered and we shouted out loud, and we cried, and that’s how I feel inside.”

That’s how Jin-Sun Kim, former Governor of Gangwon Province and now PyeongChang 2018 Special Ambassador, reacted to his bid’s victory in Durban Wednesday.

“We have walked through a very rough road coming here,” he said earlier after the presentation.

Kim, who led the previous two bids – both narrow losses – for 2010 and 2014, can be given much of the credit for the landslide win.

PyeongChang has fulfilled a South Korean dream. The bid started as an idea over 10 years ago when the small town, virtually unknown to the outside world, had just finished hosting events for the Asian Winter Games hosted by Kim’s Gangwon Province.

Domestically, the winter resort destination faced-off against a Muju-Joenju joint bid situated south-west of Seoul – but a critical ski slope in Muju was deemed to small by the ski federation and PyeongChang eventually got the nod.

The town was so off the map that many confused it with Pyongyang, North Korea – clearly an unfavourable identity crisis for the bid. To remedy that, Pyeongchang was officially renamed PyeongChang – with the capital ‘C’.

No one gave the bid a second thought against formidable opponents Vancouver and Salzburg, Austria who also bid for the 2010 Games. But due to a geo-political twist that convinced voters to avoid a Games in Europe at the time, many members chose a ‘safer’ PyeongChang in the first round; the bid missed a first ballot win by only three votes. Once Salzburg was eliminated – votes shifted to Vancouver and the Korean bid fell three votes short.

But that bid for 2010 introduced PyeongChang to the winter sports world, with the diligent help of Governor Kim.

For 2014, the bid was more aggressive creating grandiose plans to build a world class sports resort on a potato field. When the bid was defeated by Sochi by four votes – the field had been excavated and barricaded.

Then, with Kim’s determination, the resort was built – hotels, downhill ski slopes, biathlon and cross-country arena, a ski jump tower, and an Olympic stadium.

They all rose in time for a 2018 bid.

PyeongChang promised they would cultivate South Korean Winter athletes – they designed a “Drive the Dream” program. Yuna Kim won Olympic Gold thanks to the program becoming the first living legacy of the Olympic bids.

For 2018, Kim stepped aside allowing YH Cho too take the reins this time, but Kim remained as an integral part of the bid, leveraging important relationships formed over the previous years.

PyeongChang was favoured throughout the campaign but in the last lap it seemed Munich was closing fast and would be major threat. The final result showed this to be untrue.

Now, in February 2018, the world’s attention will be on tiny PyeongChang – on its world class facilities and infrastructure and on its culture. New high speed rail links will bring Seoul and an international airports 2-hours closer – something that will transform the area forever.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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