[Letters] Pyeongchang, not Pyongyang

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[Letters] Pyeongchang, not Pyongyang

I chuckled, but also winced, when reading the April 3 column, “A Diplomatic war for the Olympics,” which sized up Pyeongchang, Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympic bid city, against one of its two competitors, Munich (for some inexplicable reason, the writer concluded that the other contender, Annecy, France, is so weak as to not even merit inclusion in his comparison study).

In any case, in the column one reference to the Gangwon bid community was misspelled as “Pyeongyang.” Yes, Pyeongyang — as in the capital of North Korea!

I chuckled because of the irony that, of all places and of all media, it would be right here in South Korea and in the South Korean media, that these two very different places would be mixed up. A little background may be in order.

In its first bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics back in 2003, Pyeongchang’s cheerleaders worked tirelessly to dispel the widespread ignorance of its existence in Olympic circles and the foreign media compared with its then-rivals Salzburg, Austria, and Vancouver, Canada, both of which are worldrenowned winter sports cities.

Early on, some Korean media analysts warned that the bid team faced a Herculean challenge in trying to explain to outsiders that their bid city was a friendly little mountain town, not the capital of Stalinist North Korea.

So in addition to selling the bid as a whole to the IOC, promoters faced the additional hurdle of ensuring that foreign media did not inadvertently confuse their Gangwon regional bid with the North’s capital city, Pyeongyang (or Pyongyang, depending on which spelling system is used).

One ingenious tactic that the bid committee’s PR arm used to tackle this was by “officially” capitalizing the C in the bid’s name to isolate, and thereby clarify, the difference in the second syllable.

As a result, “PyeongChang” has been used ever since in Olympic marketing and IOC documentation, helping put the town “on the map” in global sports circles, bringing it within a hair’s breadth of snagging hosting rights for the 2010 bid.

Of course, in the end this letter is about nothing more than a silly newspaper typo, but one could argue that the mistake, however innocent, also points to one of the lingering challenges PyeongChang faces in its third — and most likely last — campaign to give Korea the Winter Olympics: lackluster municipal “brand” recognition. After all, it takes some pretty big shoes to keep the IOC dancing.

It may be too late, but perhaps PyeongChang’s municipal leaders should consider renaming the place. Kim Yu-na-ville, anyone? Samsung-chang?


Joel Levin,

resident of Seoul
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