Han: Pyeongchang better suited to the Olympic spirit

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Han: Pyeongchang better suited to the Olympic spirit

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Korea is hosting the 15th Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly until Friday, and Han Seung-soo, the chairman of the 2014 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, may just be the busiest man on the scene.
That's because he is trying his best to let the world, or at least delegates from different national Olympic committees, know Pyeongchang, Gangwon province, is the right place for the 2014 Winter Olympics ― and doing so without violating International Olympic Committee's ethics guidelines that the city, and other bidding cities, cannot begin public campaign of their bids before October.
Mr. Han, former Foreign Affairs Minister, is spearheading Pyeongchang's second effort to host Korea's first ever Winter Olympics, after the city in 2003 lost out to Vancouver, Canada, for the right to host the 2010 Games.
The host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics will be announced on July 7, 2007, during the 119th International Olympic Committee Session in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Mr. Han, who was named to the post in March 2005, sat down with the JoongAng Daily to discuss where Pyeongchang stands and where it can go from here.

Q. Is it frustrating for you and the committee that you can't publicly promote your bid while the Association of National Olympic Committees holds its general assembly in Seoul and there are delegates of Olympic Committees from all over the world?
A. We have to abide by ethics rules set by the International Olympic Committee, and that's the right thing to do. But in public events such as the ANOC General Assembly, we can still meet different delegates and we want to take advantage of that situation. We just want to have a level playing field with our competition and play fair with them.

What have some of the participants in the general assembly said about Pyeongchang?
Pyeongchang wasn't really on the world sporting map four years ago, but after [the failed bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics], the city has become much more well known. Some IOC officials have said they witnessed the transformation of Korea, following the 1988 Seoul Olympics, into a solid, developing nation. We hope that Pyeongchang can help Korea as a nation transform itself into a knowledge-based, advanced economy.
I believe our ability to organize and plan effectively, as well as civic and governmental support, are major strengths in the bidding process.

What was your mindset upon being named the chairman of the bidding committee?
I hope Korea could join the select company of countries that have hosted three major international sporting events [Summer and Winter Olympics, and the World Cup].
Korea has already hosted two of the three major international sporting events [the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 2002 World Cup], and by bringing home the Olympic Winter Games, it would be a significant feat and Korea could really become a force to be reckoned with in the sports world.
Also, Gangwon province is one of the least developed regions in the country, and the Winter Games could contribute to the economic development of not only Pyeongchang but the entire province as well.

How confident are you entering the bidding with Austria's Salzburg as the chief competition?
Austria has already hosted two Winter Games before, and it certainly has the experience. But rather than have a country with previous experience host another Olympics, allowing a nation to host a Winter Games for the first time could help spread the Olympic spirit across different parts of the world, which in our case would be the continent of Asia. In that sense, I think Pyeongchang would be better suited to contribute to the Olympic spirit.

How do you respond to the speculation that the IOC tends to move both Summer and Winter Olympics around the world so that all continents get their shares, and Pyeongchang will be at an advantage for the 2014 Winter Games?
It's not as though there is any rule [for the IOC's penchant for equal distribution of summer and winter games across the world]. But the majority of the IOC members are European, and hopefully we can get across the message that Pyeongchang is the right place to promote the right Olympic spirit. What's for certain is that if the 2014 Winter Games do end up in Asia, after Vancouver [in North America] hosts the 2010 games, then the 2018 Winter Olympics will likely be somewhere in Europe.
Because of mild winter weather conditions in the continent, Japan has so far been the only Asian nation that has hosted the Winter Olympics. And so if Korea is rewarded with the 2014 games, it could help further increase recognition of the Winter Olympics in the continent.

Korea has won almost all of its Winter Olympics medals in short-track speed skating, whereas Austria has been strong in different events. Do you think Korea's reliance on one sport could hurt Pyeongchang's chances?
It was very disappointing that all but one of our [11] medals at the Torino Winter Games came from short-track speed skating. I wish we could have won medals in a wider range of events. After attending some events in Italy myself, I felt that Korea could excel at sports where other Asian countries found success, such as figure skating, ski jumping, curling and snowboarding.
We have to nurture athletes in those sports by the 2010 Winter Games, so that when the 2014 Olympics rolls around, we will have medal winners in different events. We still have time to grow young athletes, and we will need all the support we can get from the government and businesses to help us train and develop those athletes.
I don't think [Korea's strength in one event] will be disadvantageous to us, because it's not just the strong Olympic performers that are rewarded with hosting the Olympics, summer or winter. But as I said, with the time we have, we will have to develop athletes in other sports.

Unlike Austria, Korea has no previous experience in hosting the Winter Olympics. Do you think the experience factor will affect Pyeongchang negatively?
Pyeongchang has hosted a series of international winter sporting competitions, with the events ranging from alpine skiing, to free-style skiing and snowboarding, and is looking to bring another international event with biathlon in 2009. Although we've never hosted a Winter Olympics, I think ultimately, the series of international events will have helped us gain enough experience and expertise to enable us to successfully host the Winter Olympics.


by Yoo Jee-ho
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