Olympics: Pyeongchang looks to make Games buzz for countdown

It is only a year before the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea.
It is only a year before the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea.PHOTO: OLYMPIC.ORG

LAUSANNE (AFP) - Olympic chiefs on Thursday (Feb 9) launched a campaign to spread the word about the Pyeongchang Winter Games on the one year countdown to the event amid fears of empty seats spoiling the show.

South Korean organisers opened a domestic ticket lottery on the Feb 9 anniversary. They said there were more than 18,000 applications in the first two hours for 1.18 million tickets to sell, about 30 per cent destined for the foreign market.

"It is more than what we expected," said Pyeonchang Organising Committee spokesman Sung Baik-You.

A series of events were still staged around the world to push the name of the small Korean mountain town more into the limelight however.

In a message to accompany official invitations to the Games, IOC president Thomas Bach said the Olympics "will be a moment for Korea to amaze the world."

"Pyeongchang will transform into a hub for Asian winter sports. For the first time, the magic of Olympic sport on snow and ice will come to Korea," he added.

Test events at Pyeongchang have started while work on some hotels and other infrastructure is still going on. A high speed train from the country's main Incheon airport is only due to start operating in December.

Some countries have said there is not enough accommodation for athletes and officials.

IOC coordination commission chairperson Gunilla Lindberg said that with only a year to go, "we can feel the excitement growing and the support of the whole of the Republic of Korea for these Games."

An opinion poll released this week said 49 per cent of South Koreans are not interested in the country's first Winter Olympics.

South Korean organisers marked the countdown by unveiling a weatherproof torch inspired by traditional Korean white porcelain for the Olympic relay. It is designed to keep the flame alive in the high altitudes and strong winds of the mountainous venue.

In Los Angeles, the city's bid to stage the 2024 Olympics, set up a curling sheet in the city's huge Koreatown district, home to the largest Korean population outside of Korea.

Sponsors and Games ambassadors were also brought into the campaign with one longstanding Swiss sponsor of the Games setting up a one year clock outside Seoul's city hall.

Skiing superstar, Lindsey Vonn, a Pyeongchang envoy, is hoping to make her Olympic swansong at the event.

"The Olympics are something that motivate me and that I really work hard for. I was obviously disappointed that I didn't got to Sochi because of my knee injury, so I'm looking forward to Pyeongchang," she told Eurosport television at the world championships in Switzerland.

South Korea is also hoping that political tensions with China, over the basing of US missiles in the country, and North Korea ease in coming months.

Organising committee president Lee Hee-Beom has made calls for arch-rival North Korea, which boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics, to take part.

"We are preparing for a scenario in case North Korea participates in the Pyeongchang Olympics," Lee told reporters, according to the Yonhap national news agency.

Lee also acknowledged that a corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-Hye has made companies reluctant to sign sponsorship deals, leaving organisers with a budget gap of hundreds of millions of dollars.