GANGNEUNG (South Korea) • Pyeongchang has waited a long time to host the Winter Olympics, suffering two failed bids before securing success, but the South Korean alpine town's dream came a step closer to reality yesterday with the one-year countdown to the 2018 Games.
Pyeongchang will stage Asia's first Winter Games outside Japan and kick off an Asian Olympic cycle that reflects the region's growing influence on world sport with Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Games and Beijing holding the 2022 Winter Olympics.
In a video message at a countdown ceremony held at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach invited the athletes of the world to come to Pyeongchang in a year's time.
"For the first time, the magic of Olympic sport on snow and ice will come to Korea," he said at a ceremony featuring taekwondo demonstrations, K-pop and traditional Korean music.
Bach also thanked the Korean government and business community for their support and said he was in no doubt the country would deliver a great Olympics.
Located in the mountainous Gangwon province, some 180km east of Seoul, Pyeongchang failed in bids for the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games.
But Pyeongchang organising chief Lee Hee Beom said the fact that the next three Olympic Games would be staged in north-east Asia was a clear signal of the region's strength.
"We can say the era of Asia in sport is taking place," Lee said in Gangneung, which will stage the ice hockey, curling, figure skating, speed and short-track skating events. "It's Pyeongchang's vision to open a new horizon of winter sports in north-east Asia and the world."