- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

LONDON — Pyeongchang is hoping the third time will prove the charm.

The South Korean city is bidding to host the 2018 Winter Olympics against a strong bid from Munich, led by ice- skating legend Katarina Witt, and a long-shot run from Annecy, France. Pyeongchang’s bid to host the games comes after narrow defeats to Vancouver (2010) and Sochi, Russia (2014).

The three bidding cities will make their final presentations Wednesday at the 123rd International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Durban, South Africa. After the presentations, the IOC members will meet to select the winning city. A voting majority is required for victory.

Pyeongchang, located 110 miles east of Seoul, is seen as the front-runner, with Munich close behind.

“I think Pyeongchang has got it right this time,” Olympic historian Phillip Barker said.

Pyeongchang has garnered accolades for its legacy program. Its bid slogan is “New Horizons,” emphasizing Asia as an emerging market and promising that if Pyeongchang wins, Korea will become a “hub for 600 million winter sports enthusiasts.”

Munich, which is trying to become the first city to host the Winter and Summer Games, boasts that it will sell out all it venues and generate substantial revenue for the Olympic movement. Munich also will put to use venues used at the 1972 Summer Olympics, such as turning the 1972 swimming arena into the curling venue. Annecy has focused on aesthetics: “We have the Alps and Mount Blanc.”

If it wins, Pyeongchang has promised an aggressive $500 million “Drive the Dream” program: a massive longtime investment to promote winter sports in Korea and develop a new generation of winter sports athletes, and identify future elite athletes.

The Korean bid has hit some bumps on the road. In March, a top politician said that it would be a national disgrace if Korea failed to win the bid on its third attempt. That statement riled some IOC members.

“We are not demanding the games,” Yang Ho Cho, chairman and CEO of Pyeongchang 2018 said in an interview with The Washington Times in April. “We just say: Korea is the right place, and it’s the right time. This has been our consistent message, which is ‘New Horizons.’”

While Munich says it’s time to bring the event back to winter-sports-loving Germany for the first time in 80 years, many Olympic observers see the games in Asia as a strong draw.

“Geographically it may be a good time to bring the Winter Olympics back to Asia,” said Ed Hula, editor of Around the Rings magazine.

Only Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics in Asia: in Sapporo in 1972 and in Nagano in 1998.

Playing in Pyeongchang’s favor is the “welcome factor.” The IOC likes to take the games to places where they are welcome, and there is almost 100 percent support in Korea for the games, while Munich and Annecy have faced some domestic opposition. A local referendum was needed by the Munich bid in May to secure the last piece of property needed for the downhill course.

The weakest element in Pyeongchang’s bid is its isolation from a major city. The Korean bid committee said they would fix this through the “Best of Korea” program, which will bring hotels, restaurants and more than “130 brands” to Pyeongchang for the duration of the games. South Korea also is building a high-speed train from Seoul to Pyeongchang.

“We will bring shopping and entertainment to the games — to Pyeongchang so people can enjoy Korean hospitality and culture as well,” Cho said. “We also have the high-speed train, which will only be 50 minutes from Seoul. So we have solved the isolation and ambience problem.”

On Munich’s side is IOC Vice President Thomas Bach, a powerful figure in the Olympic movement. Munich also is a media darling because of its accessibility to a metro city, record-breaking tourism figures and a high “ambience factor.”

“We feel that we can win,” Bach said, “but we are sportsmen enough to realize that on the given day someone else might be better.”