When the word "Pyeongchang" flashed on the enormous television screen that filled a wall in the central square, the crowd burst into a cocphony of singing, cheering, dancing, and hugging.
For this town in the middle of South Korea's snow country, the choice of Pyeongcheong as the central venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics represents not only a triumph for Korea but for the individuals who live here in the shadows of the peaks and valleys where Olympic athletes will be competing nearly seven years from now.
It was like midnight on New Year's Eve here, locals say, only louder and more intense.
"I am so excited, we will make Pyeongchang a number one city," says Shim Seong-ho, a local government worker, breathless and hoarse after leading the throng in six hours of sloganeering, deafening music, and song-and-dance numbers.
A town celebrates
The crowd was a cross-section of the town – office workers and day laborers, students and retirees, families with kids – and the sense of camaraderie was universal.
The local government made the occasion one huge blast with snacks simmering on frying pans and more than enough sweet bean cake for everyone. As the evening wore on, confidence grew that Korea, barely defeated in bids for the last two Winter Olympics, would make it this time.
A nation obsesses
The drive to bring the 2018 Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang became a national obsession, a point of pride for a country and a society that came of age hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics and proved it again by co-hosting the 2002 World Cup soccer finals. What better way to prove Korea was up there with the world's most powerful countries than to win the bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics against two of Europe's strongest winter sports nations, Germany and France?
This time, against a background of defeat in its two previous runs at the Winter Olympics, South Korea left nothing to chance, beginning with vast improvements of venues for winter sports to lobbying and politicking by the country's most influential political and business leaders.
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak arrived in Durban, South Africa four days before the International Olympic Committee's vote. Samsung chief Lee Kun-hee, Korea's wealthiest man and a member of the IOC, was visible at his side as the feeling grew that Korea would indeed become the only Asian country beside Japan to host the Winter Olympics.
In the end, this time, Korea won by such a wide margin as to bear comparisons to the student cramming night and day for a difficult exam – and then acing it.
Against Korea's 65 votes, mighty Munich, seen before the vote as running neck-and-neck with South Korea, mustered only 25 votes, and Annecy, the French entry, got just 7.
For Pyeongchang, the victory was all the more remarkable considering that Korea has hardly been known for winter sports.
It was not until country's dramatic economic recovery from the Korean War, which ended in an uneasy truce in 1953, that winter sports have become popular. And Korean promoters still have tremendous difficulty convincing people outside Korea to come here simply to go skiing in anything approaching the numbers that flock to slopes of the European Alps.
An emotional night
The supremacy of the figure skater Kim Yu-na, gold medalist in the last Winter Olympics, has probably been as important as anything else in demonstrating Koreans' capacity to compete at winter sports.
Ms. Kim, a star in the campaign for the Pyeongcheong bid, shed tears in Durban as she described her emotions.
"If you lose an individual competition, it's just a personal thing," she said. "This time it was much bigger. I was afraid, even a small mistake on my part could ruin the whole thing. I'm so very happy now."
That was the overwhelming feeling among everyone here in town – and in another crowd of wildly cheering fans at the base of the slopes a few miles away – as they absorbed the news.
"I'm speechless," says Park Min-jong, on the fringes of the crowd, far enough away from the noise to be able to talk for a moment. "Now more foreigners will visit Pyeongchang, and we will treat them as our own family."
Kim Yeon-ho, owner of a construction company, asks foreigners, "Please give us your support," as the town begins to prepare for its place in Olympic history. "We're so happy."
10 years of preparation
In the end, it was the emotional drive, the national desire to prove Korea's standing as a global power, that seemed to have made the difference.
"We've been preparing for this for 10 years," said Cho Yang-ho, talking on Korean TV networks in Durban. "The biggest factor is each and every citizen gave us support, so I didn't feel it was so difficult.... I never felt pessimistic about anything."
Soh Min-kyung, running a restaurant beside the city hall square, talks about how sad it would have been to lose the bid.
"It would be bad for Korea, bad for Koreans," she says. "This is a great thing. All Koreans are extremely happy."
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