- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Former South Korean government minister Lee Hee-beom was elected Thursday as the new head of the organizing committee for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang following the abrupt resignation of the previous president.

Lee, 67, a former minister of industry and energy, was unanimously elected in a meeting of 103 officials, the organizing committee said. Lee’s election requires endorsement from South Korea’s minister of culture, sports and tourism, which is considered a formality.

The committee last week nominated Lee to replace business tycoon Cho Yang-ho, who stepped down to deal with financial troubles at a major shipping company his family controls.

“It is a personal honor to undertake such a nationally important task with the Olympics being just a year and nine months away, but I also feel heavy responsibility,” Lee said in a statement.

Lee acknowledged he is still a novice in the sports world and said he is well aware of concerns about Olympic preparations.

“Frankly, I have not much experience and knowledge on the sports field,” he said. “I’ll try to overcome my shortcomings by making harder endeavors day and night … and ceaselessly receiving help from experts from various sectors.”

Pyeongchang organizers have faced a series of challenges in recent years, including construction delays, local conflicts over venues and slow pace of attracting domestic sponsorships, but preparations seemed to accelerate after the successful hosting of test events at Olympic venues earlier this year.

The sudden resignation of Cho, whose family also controls Olympic sponsor Korean Air, marked the second change in less than two years at the helm of the Olympic organizing committee.

“If the 1988 Seoul Olympics were the event that introduced South Korea to the international stage, the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics will mark a historic turning point that allows the country to leap into the ranks of advanced nations,” Lee said.

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