After two defeats, Pyeongchang celebrates

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
12:42
PM ET


PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Hundreds of South Koreans gathered at a giant ski jump in Pyeongchang to celebrate the remote alpine town receiving the 2018 Winter Olympics on Thursday.

The decision in a vote by the IOC brought a roar of delight, leaps of excitement, hugs, screams and some tears of joy from the crowd in front of a giant television screen at a stadium attached to the 100-meter-tall ski jump, one of the venues Pyeongchang plans to use in 2018.

The town of 47,000 near South Korea's east coast was the favorite to win the vote, after being narrowly defeated by Vancouver and Sochi in its two previous attempts to host a Winter Olympics.

"This is indescribably joyous," said Lim Myeong-rae, a 53-year-old who recalled riding wooden skis on a Pyeongchang hill in his childhood. "The two previous defeats no longer feel bitter in my heart. There is nothing more I want in my life now."

In Pyeongchang, almost every major South Korean broadcasting station set up a booth to broadcast the announcement live, and busloads of people arranged themselves in neat rows in the stadium, waving flags and singing songs with hopeful messages.
[+] EnlargeSouth Korea
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty ImagesSouth Koreans celebrate after after obtaining a first-round majority in the vote to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Their hopes were answered when International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge announced Pyeongchang's bid beat European rivals Munich and Annecy.

"A dream has come true," said Lee Hee-koo, a 65-year-old retired social worker who lives in another city in Gangwon Province where Pyeongchang is located. "Gangwon people could not have done this alone. This was possible because we had the support of the entire nation."

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, speaking right after the announcement, called it a victory for all South Koreans, presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha told Yonhap News Agency.

"I feel like I can fly," Lee Bom, a 15-year-old girl who attends a middle school in a neighboring town. "We kept pushing despite the failures. I'm proud of that. I look forward to watching the games when I'm a grown up."

Located 110 miles east of Seoul, Pyeongchang had a positive technical report from the IOC's evaluation commission and impressive levels of support. The country has a growing status in winter sports and an attractive position in the fast-growing region of East Asia.

The IOC technical report released in May praised Pyeongchang's compactness. All venues are within 30 minutes drive of each other. The $1.5 billion Alpensia resort would host the Alpine events, the main village and press and broadcast center. A second, smaller coastal hub comprising five venues -- including figure skating -- will be a 20-minute drive down the mountain in Gangneung, a city of 300,000.

By 2017, a high-speed rail line will link Seoul to Pyeongchang in 50 minutes, and is expected to carry the bulk of Olympic visitors.

A new highway will reduce the driving time from 2½ to less than 2 hours from the capital, home to many of the weekend skiers who accounted for the bulk of the 1.85 million visitors to the area last season.

Cha Jeong-min, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher, said she's sure North Korea will rejoice along with the South.

"I believe North and South Korea will be united in the Olympic spirit and stay away from tension at least for the time we're holding the Olympics," she said.

Tension between the rivals remains high along the heavily armed border after the North bombarded a western South Korean island and killed four people, including two civilians, last year.

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