USSA reps enjoy unique visit to Pyeongchang
If you’re already looking forward to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, don’t expect a centralized urban hub like Salt Lake City. The town of Pyeongchang, according to Tom Kelly, is the size of Heber City.
It’s safe to say these Games will be about the mountains, and not just the host city.
"It’s not close to any venue and it’s not on the way to any venue," said Kelly, the vice president of communications for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). Kelly recently returned from a 10-day visit.
Pyeongchang is the capital city of a region in South Korea.
"It’s all mountains," Kelly said. "The mountains are quite different from here; they’re smaller, there’s not a lot of elevation on them, but they’re all pretty tree-covered, so there’s no above-tree-line stuff. It’s all forested mountains. And they’re rugged. Very, very rugged."
Kelly was among 30 to 40 USSA representatives, a mix of staff members and volunteers from across the country, who traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for a FIS (International Ski Federation) Congress. There are international meetings held annually, but the FIS Congress is held every two years, where delegates from all over the world voice their opinions on anything from sports rules to bidding for future World Cups.
It just so happens that this year’s FIS Congress was held in South Korea, the nation that will host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
"It was not tied into the Olympic bid or anything," Kelly said. "It was more or less coincidental that we ended up there the year after they got the bid. For years, we’ve all kind of been dreading going there. It’s a long ways. It’s just a place that was foreign to us. We have a different opinion now."
Kelly and some of the other folks in USSA figured they’d take advantage of the trip to see a host country six years ahead of schedule.
"We normally would never visit an Olympics site this far out," he said.
Along for the ride was Luke Bodensteiner, executive vice president of athletics for USSA, who said his first visit to South Korea was eye-opening — in a good way.
"The great part is there’s already a pretty good feeling that the people of South Korea are ecstatic about having the Olympics," he said. "I think it’ll be a positive thing for sure, not only for sports, but Korea in general.
"It was a good bonus. It’s always good to go to an Olympic site and see it and at least start to conceptualize things."
Most of the venues are in a wide valley, Kelly said, that cuts through the center of the Pyeongchang region. Already in place is a super highway, and he said plans are in motion to construct a high-speed rail system that will transport athletes and spectators from the capital city of Seoul to the region in a little over an hour.
Already raring to go is Phoenix Park, which will play host to freestyle, freeskiing and snowboarding events. Alpensia Nordic Center, which is a short drive from Phoenix Park, will be host to the cross-country, Nordic combined and ski jumping events as well as the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
"This will be ground zero for everything," Kelly said of Alpensia. "It’s all completely finished."
He said the only venue not yet developed is the site of the downhill. The rest of the alpine events are scheduled to be held at YongPyong — five minutes from Alpensia — where Parkite Ted Ligety won his first World Cup race in March 2006.
"I think we can look forward to a Games that are very, very organized and very efficient," Kelly said. "We had an absolutely over-the-top great experience in Korea."
Bodensteiner said many folks picked his brain when he returned stateside, asking what it was like to be in a host country six years out.
"Compared to Olympics in North America or Europe, it’s different. Not many people have been to South Korea," he said. "It’s a bit of an exotic and unknown location. People are curious."
While there will be no urban center that will play host to these Olympic Games, Kelly said most involved are glad to see a region, as a whole, garner that type of attention.
"The excitement won’t be in a city somewhere, it’ll be at a resort," he said. "That’s what we want, to be celebrating the Olympics where our sports take place."
Admittedly, Kelly said he isn’t all that tuned in on what the venues for bobsled, luge or ice skating are like, but said he believes the Koreans could pull through much sooner than later.
"What we like about this place is, it’s ready for the Games right now," he said.
And to add to that, USSA has a man on the inside.
Toby Dawson, the 2006 bronze medal moguls skier, is a Korean-American who is coaching the Korean moguls team and living in Seoul. Kelly said Dawson’s closing argument in support of South Korea last July may have been the kicker that awarded the Koreans the 2018 Games over France and Germany.
"They kicked ass with their presentation," he said. "Toby left this amazing, emotional feel on the IOC. The Koreans feel that put them over the top."
Kelly, Bodensteiner and co. left South Korea with a better understanding of where the organization will go in six years.
"We’ve got Sochi on our minds right now," Bodensteiner added, "but we know Pyeongchang is right around the corner."
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