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South Korea's Olympic effort to win an Olympic bid

South Korea is pulling out all the stops in its third bid to host a Winter Olympics. Can it beat out iconic, Alps-filled Germany and France for the 2018 Games?

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / May 6, 2011

South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak pushes a bobsled of youths from countries without snow at an Olympic-quality facility in Pyeongchang.

Ahn Young-joon/Reuters/File


Pyeongchang, South Korea

Here in South Korea's "snow country" the white stuff stays on the ground from November through March. In a region where some of the Korean War's fier­cest battles were fought, the government is investing more than $2 billion in new facilities for winter sports.

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It's part of an all-or-nothing bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics in this winter wonderland of rolling peaks, 60 miles east of Seoul.

Hopes are incredibly high. Charm Lee, a German who took a Korean name, became a Korean citizen, and now is president of the Korea Tourist Organization, is confident Pyeongchang has the edge over the leading competitor, Munich. "That's Old Europe style," says Mr. Lee. "Korea is 'New Horizons.' "

Having lost two previous Olympic bids to Vancouver, British Columbia (2010); and Sochi, Russia (2014); Koreans see the 2018 Olympic bid as more than critical to their national pride. They want the rest of the world to know that winter sports are not just for Europe and North America, and they can compete with the best when it comes to doing it right.

Billboards proclaiming "Pyeong­chang 2018/New Horizons" greet visitors as their buses twist and turn through the countryside leading to the sweeping slopes where most of the Olympic-quality sporting infrastructure is already in place, just waiting for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to proclaim Pyeongchang the winner this July.

"New Horizons expresses ... the growth of Olympic sports in Asia," says Lee Ji-hye, a woman from the Pyeong­chang winter Games bid com­mittee, showing a visitor around the first of three proposed sites.

It's a complex called Phoenix Park, owned by the Bogan Group, which is a subsidiary of Korea's largest conglomerate, the Samsung empire. Samsung's chieftain, Lee Kun-hee, happens to be a member of the 110th International Olympic Committee making the final decision.

The Pyeongchang committee seems to have considered every angle Korea will need to win the vote, but they're up against two of Europe's legendary winter sports settings: Munich, Germany, offers the snow and ice of nearby Garmisch; and the picturesque French town of Annecy is near Mont Blanc, the most famous peak in the French Alps.

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The 14-member IOC evaluation team, which visited Pyeongchang in February, had a reception of an intensity that most had not seen before – townspeople cheering, musical groups at the base of every slope, live coverage on Korean TV. Gunilla Lind­berg, chair of the committee, was impressed.


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