Korea dreaming of having twice the fun

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Korea dreaming of having twice the fun

Korea is hoping to host not one, but two major sporting events in the year 2014: Pyeongchang, Gangwon province, is bidding for the Olympic Winter Games, while Incheon is trying to land the Asian Games.

Their fate will be determined in 2007. If both cities succeed, Korea will become the first country to host the Asian Games in the summer and the Winter Olympics in the same year, and the seventh nation to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
Pyeongchang, about 180 kilometers (110 miles) east of Seoul, fell short in its bid to host the 2010 Winter Games, losing to Vancouver, Canada, by three votes. But the city regrouped and is hoping to become the first Korean city to host the Winter Olympics.
“In bidding for the 2010 games, we just didn’t have the experience. The close call is now a valuable asset for us,” said Bahng Jae-heung, secretary general for the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee. “We’ve made our improvements in areas where we felt we were lacking, such as traffic networks and accommodations’ proximity to venues. Now we’re good to go.”
Several factors may work in favor of Pyeongchang, which is preparing for the International Olympic Committee’s on-site inspection from Feb. 14 to 17. Asia has hosted only two winter Olympics since they began in 1924. Japan is the only Asian nation to have hosted the Winter Games, with the 1998 Nagano Games and the 1972 Sapporo Games.
Even without a Winter Games on its resume, Korea brings some experience to table. It hosted the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and two Asiads ― Busan in 2002 and Seoul in 1986 ― and was co-host of the 2002 World Cup with Japan.
Plus, by 2014, Europe and North America will have taken turns in hosting the Winter Games: 2002 in Salt Lake City, the United States; 2006 in Torino, Italy; and 2010 in Vancouver. It just might be Asia’s turn.
Pyeongchang’s rivals are Sochi, Russia, and Salzburg, Austria. The host city will be announced in July during the 119th International Olympic Committee Session in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
“We are the first of the three candidate cities to be inspected by the IOC, and we think it’s important for us to leave a good first impression,” Mr. Bahng said. The IOC’s evaluation committee will be in Sochi from Feb. 20 to 23, and in Salzburg from March 14 to 17.
“Salzburg has an advantage because it will be the last to be inspected and that could leave a lasting impression on IOC members, but we’re confident in our chances,” he said.
One obstacle for Pyeongchang, said Mr. Bahng, could come from friendly forces. The Asiad host city will be selected in April during the 26th Olympic Council of Asia’s General Assembly in Kuwait. Should Incheon be voted as the host, will the IOC members still be willing to vote for Pyeongchang, knowing that its decision would give Korea two major events in 2014?
“I’ve heard some people say Korea is maybe a bit too greedy in going after both events,” Mr. Bahng said. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. We’re going to do our best and not worry about other issues.”
Incheon, on the west coast, has a strong competitor in New Delhi, India. While the Korean city’s bid committee said it has the novelty factor working in its favor, New Delhi has already hosted two Asiads, including the inaugural one in 1951.
The Incheon committee is well aware of New Delhi’s experience and the strength of its facilities that are already in place. New Delhi claims it will have 30 venues for the 2014 Asian Games, and 15 now exist. Another eight will be built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games while seven will be new for 2014.
“For the same city to host the Asian Games a third time is not fair,” Shin Yong-suk, the Incheon committee’s chairman, told Agence France-Presse at the Olympic Council of Asia’s General Assembly on the sidelines of the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
Another wild card may be the regional factor. With Korea and China sandwiching Qatar as Asiad hosts from 2002 to 2010, and Beijing hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, India might benefit from the similar “regional rotation” that could help Pyeongchang. Southern Asia last held the Asian Games in 1982 in New Delhi.
The Incheon committee, in a report comparing the two cities’ bids, pointed out New Delhi’s offer of free air tickets and accommodation to athletes and officials in 2014 might be another advantage for India. Mr. Shin was quoted in December by Agence France-Presse as saying the Indian offer is not appropriate to the spirit of the games.
Regardless, the Incheon committee remains confident. Just ask Mr. Shin, who was in Doha recently to lobby for Incheon.
“If the voting started tomorrow, we could win,” he said, adding Korea’s strength in information technology will help Incheon give a more sophisticated feel to the 2014 Asiad than New Delhi.
Incheon’s goal does not end with the Asian Games. In a report detailing its bid preparation, the Incheon bidding committee said, “If we establish a strong infrastructure by preparing for and possibly hosting the Asian Games in 2014, we could go after the Summer Olympics down the road.”
For Incheon, the Asian Games presents an opportunity to come out of the shadows after having played second-fiddle to Seoul and Busan.
“Despite being the third-largest metropolitan city in the country, Incheon lacks the global recognition of Seoul and Busan,” said Mr. Shin, the bid committee chairman, in a recent radio interview. “Incheon is aiming to become Northeast Asia’s logistical hub, and we’re hoping the Asian Games will improve our image and raise our brand recognition, on top of adding infrastructure to the city.”

by Yoo Jee-ho
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