'Conditions, not glitz important at PyeongChang'

The 2018 Winter Olympics will be prepared with focus on the best competition environment for athletes, rather than the glamour of an international event, its chief organizer said.

"The Olympics are not about the glitz and glamour of hosting an international event," Kim Jin-sun, president of the 2018 Olympics organising committee, told The Korea Herald.

"Rather, I believe that what I should do is to offer athletes the best possible environment so that they may bring about their best possible performances."

Asked about controversies about Gariwangsan, which environmentalists oppose as the site of a ski slope, citing possible ecological damage, he replied: "Many inspections found the mountain highly suitable for the event in athletic terms. The Jungbong Peak on Gariwangsan offers the best conditions for athletic performance, and the inspections so far were made in consideration of the ecological as well as athletic sides."

Gariwangsan was designated an ecological reserve for endangered plants by Korea Forest Service in 2008. The forest authorities announced on June 20, after consulting experts, that it chose the peak as the slope site.

Kim said that he has undergone considerable strain for the past year to prepare for the Games.

"For the past year, we have been in a state of emergency, with high strain and tension, it's almost like we're about to go to war," said the 65-year-old.

The former governor of Gangwon Province thoughtfully recollected the moment when International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge announced PyeongChang as the winner in Durban, South Africa this time last year.

"I really can't believe it has already been a year because the memories from that day are still vivid in my mind," said Kim.

"It was really a clear-cut victory for us, the Korean people, Gangwon Province and even myself," Kim said.

On July 6, 2011, PyeongChang successfully outbid Munich, Germany and Annecy, France in a landslide win of 63-25-7, respectfully, giving the city the most decisive win in Olympic history.

And for Kim, who began PyeongChang's campaign in 1999, the achievement was one that had eluded him not once but twice, with the 2010 and 2014 bids.

"That (the win) was only the beginning of the real journey."

Winter in Asia

Kim believes that it was Asia's turn to host the Olympics.

"This Olympics can be seen as giving Asia a window of opportunity. An opportunity to explode Asia's hidden talent."

Because Asia has had fewer chances in the past, Kim hopes that the opportunity will allow the surrounding countries to come together.

"We could bring in volunteers and staff from the surrounding countries," he said, adding that PyeongChang is within five hours of several major Asian cities.

In the same breath, it is hard to forget one major Asian city that still looms over South Korea: Pyongyang.

"Gangwon Province in particular is a very representative image of the division in our country especially considering that the province itself is divided."

In order to close the gap between the two countries, Kim personally flew to Pyongyang.

"For the 2014 bid, I went to Pyongyang in 2007 just for that issue and we came to an understanding with the North Korean sports leadership authority director."

Discussing the possibility of various joint operations, Kim looked at joint training camps, cultural events and other opportunities.

"I put that information into the bid (2014) file and submitted it to the IOC," he said.

And although Kim has not spoken with the North since, he still has hope for cooperation on the Korean peninsula.

"Since we have not said that we would break it off, I still like to believe that it (the agreement) is still in effect," he said.

"Now that PyeongChang has been awarded with the bid, maybe we can discuss more joint opportunities."

Kim has continued to man the helm since the bid and has several goals.

"One homework assignment we have is to market effectively so that we can bring in profits for the Games," said Kim.

"The other is how much we reduce costs so that we get the most comfort out of the lowest budget."

National support

But Kim has had the support of the entire country behind him ever since his first bid.

"The government has showed us consistent support that is no different from when we vied for the bid," he said.

"Politicians are also very aware of the importance of holding the Games."

The three-time former Gangwon Province governor also mentioned the Special Act on the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The law, which passed the National Assembly just before 2012, gives the organising committee both administrative and financial support from the central and local governments. Also under the new law, the government will provide more than 75 per cent of the cost for constructing the Olympic venues.

Thus far, progress has been according to schedule.

"There has definitely been some trouble but overall progress is going smoothly," said Kim, adding that the IOC gave its nod of approval during an inspection in March.

As only the second Asian country to host the Winter Olympic Games, Kim has also looked to Korea's neighbour over the East Sea.

Japan hosted the Winter Games in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.

"They (Sapporo) were very successful in creating an atmosphere that promoted both Sapporo and Japan as a winter sport hub," he said.

And it was when Nagano hosted the games that Kim saw a glimpse of his future.

"When we looked at Nagano's preparations, we felt that we definitely had the ability to host it ourselves."

Gold

Kim also looks to future national athletes in the hope that they do not disappoint the home crowd.

"Because it is a sports event, the most important thing is our own competitiveness and asserting ourselves as a leading country in sports is as equally important."

The committee head believes that getting a good medal count is just as important as hosting the Games.

"In Vancouver we dominated the ice but it is hard to say with certainty that we will do it again," he said. Korea placed fifth in the medal count with six gold and silver medals and two bronze.

"We still cannot call our country a powerhouse in winter sports," he said, citing the lack of a Korean presence on the snow.

"But we definitely have the ability to do so," Kim said firmly.

"This is the complete Olympic cycle for Korea, from when we held the Summer Olympic Games in 1988 introducing ourselves to the world, and now when we assert ourselves as a developed nation."

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