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COVER STORYPyeongchang Olympics Overcoming Complicated Obstacles
Jee-hyeon Son, Min-seong Kim | 승인 2018.05.15 12:25|(260호)

   The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was held in Pyeongchang, Gangwondo, for 17 days from February 9 to February 25, 2018. This was the first Olympics to take place in Korea after the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and the first Winter Olympics ever to be held in South Korea. The greatest number of countries and players ever participated in this Winter Olympics.

 

  Pyeongchang was chosen to host the 2018 Olympics after two previous failed bids, succeeding in receiving a majority of votes in the first, second, and third International Olympic Committee (IOC) sessions on July 6, 2011. Organizers expected this Olympics to establish a benchmark for national development and a sustainable regional legacy. Specific benefits predicted to result from hosting the Olympic Games included economic revitalization; upgrading national brands; balancing regional development; driving national development; promoting development of high-tech industries; advances in national standing; promoting inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation, and peace through the Olympic movement; and creating a hub for Asian winter sports.

  However, some economic experts pointed out, "There is a need to discard the idea that holding an international event can result in huge profits." As a matter of fact, South Korea has failed to record significantly high profits at large international events held since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Before the Olympics, some people were upset with the IOC’s decision to erase Dokdo from the Korean Unification Flag, a decision based on the judgment of the IOC which does not allow political messages to be delivered. In addition, there was an attempt to hide the fact that Seokhee Sim, a short track speed skater, was beaten by her coach, and terrible teamwork was demonstrated in the ladies’ team pursuit skating event in which two players left one player behind, revealing factionalism within Korean athletics, especially within the Korean Skating Union. Moreover, due to Park Geunhye-Choi Sunsil Gate, revealed in 2016, it became apparent that Choi attempted to intervene in many parts of the Pyeongchang Olympics in both direct and indirect ways. These circumstances concerned many people, making them view the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics pessimistically.

  However, despite these concerns, South Korea had its most successful Olympics. Unfortunately, South Korea failed to achieve its target of attaining fourth place with 20 medals (8 gold medals, 4 silver medals, and 8 bronze medals) but did succeed in winning its largest number of medals: 17 medals. It was the first time that the ladies’ short track team failed to win a medal in the 1000m race, but the men’s short track players recovered from their slump in the 2014 Sochi Olympics by winning 1 gold medal, 1 silver medal, and 2 bronze medals. More than anything, what made the Olympic Games more meaningful than ever was that excellent results were not concentrated among only a few specific events but obtained across various events. By winning the gold medal in the men’s skeleton, Sungbin Yun achieved the best record ever in sledding not just in South Korea but among all Asian countries. The women's curling team defeated strong teams such as Canada, Switzerland and the UK. In the final match with Sweden, they failed to obtain first place, but won precious silver medals and succeeded in achieving the highest ever finish among Asian countries. The men's speed skating team players finished in fifth place, confirming the potential of rookie skaters Mingyu Cha, Taeyun Kim, Minseok Kim, and Jaewon Jung, who will succeed the established skaters Seunghun Lee and Taebeom Mo.

  The first unified team in the history of the Olympic Games was also of great significance. The inter-Korean women’s hockey team did not achieve great results. However, peace and harmony were symbolized through the efforts of promoting team unification, which is consistent with the purpose of the Olympic Games. Both ancient Olympic Games and modern Olympic Games were resurrected through the intention to establish a place of harmony at a time when the two countries were in a serious confrontational state. This was why the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation supported this unifying process even though there was a problem concerning equality with other countries. 

  "The members of the International Olympic Committee and the athletes say that the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games was probably one of the best organized events in the history of the Olympic Winter Games. Koreans are delighted and proud of it," Gunilla Lindberg, the IOC coordinating chairman said. IOC Chairman Thomas Bach praised the operation of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. A Canadian columnist said, “The problem with the Pyeongchang Olympics is that there is no problem.” There was also much praise for the many attractions such as the joint entry of North and South Korea at the opening ceremony, and the ignition of the Olympic flame by the queen of figure skating Yeonah Kim.

  Some political parties in Korea did not hide a negative tone, even saying, "It is not the Pyeongchang Olympics, but the Pyeongyang Olympics". Some others insisted that North Korea was trying to have the sanctions eased by sending North Korean senior officials to South Korea, and that the final winner of the Olympics was North Korea. However, US news networks and broadcasters around the world focused their attention on the women's ice hockey team, and despite the unified Korean team being defeated, they emphasized the significance of a single inter-Korean team. They stated after the first game that it was "a historic night for sports and politics in the international arena, and a very important defeat you can have." The world focused on the peaceful atmosphere between South Korea and North Korea, saying, "Even though the united team lost, they won peace."

  Also, diplomatically, there was a report that "the United States and North Korea will engage in talks thanks to South Korea." The UK's PS21 director, Peter Apps, emphasized that through the Pyeongchang Olympics, South Korea opened a window of "insufficient but substantial" opportunities to prevent higher tension on the Korean Peninsula or at least slow it down. Indeed, South Korea and North Korea have exchanged envoys with each other since the Olympics,  successfully resolving conflicts, and South Korea has pulled the United States and North Korea into an arena of dialogue. Finally, South and North Korea agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit in April 2018.

 

  The Pyeongchang Olympic Games were more suitable for the 'Olympic spirit' of peace and harmony than the previous Winter Olympics. Korea focused not only on the number of gold medals won and overall ranking. Viewers and broadcasters were not only interested in the winners. Not only did viewers congratulate the winners of gold medals but also the participants who won silver medals and bronze medals in the events where Korea did not have a strong showing, such as the "Team Kim" Korean curling team.

 

  The Olympic Games also helped to ease the ongoing conflict with North Korea. Some media reported that North Korea intended to use the Olympics to have sanctions lifted. But as a result, the unification of the women's ice hockey team and the joint entry of the two Koreas at the opening ceremony provided the world with a marvelous spectacle, and helped to create an atmosphere of global reconciliation.

 

  In 2016, the great political scandal surrounding President Geunhye Park and Soonsil Choi erupted, and it was revealed that Choi tried to use the Pyeongchang Olympics as a tool for her daughter Yura Jung. As it turned out that the Pyeongchang Olympic Games were indirectly involved in the unprecedented political scandal, most Koreans were uncertain about hosting the Olympics successfully. However, the Korean government successfully hosted the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, and by demonstrating excellent diplomatic skills, it made the Olympic Games not just a sporting event but an opportunity for peace and harmony. If this peaceful mood lasts, the success of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games will continue.

Jee-hyeon Son, Min-seong Kim  sonjh210@, regret1261@cnu.ac.kr

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