One year out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines
PyeongChang has been waiting to host the Olympics for more than 15 years. In 365 days, the cauldron will be lit at the South Korean ski resort in the Taebaek Mountains.
It took South Korea three tries to win the IOC vote to host its first Winter Olympics, after holding the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
The first PyeongChang Winter Olympic bid was launched around the year 2000 for a 2003 IOC vote to determine the 2010 Olympic host city. Vancouver beat PyeongChang by three votes. For 2014, Sochi topped PyeongChang by four votes.
Finally, the South Koreans won a landslide in 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games, securing 63 of the 95 votes to trounce Munich and Annecy, France.
The PyeongChang region is home to about 50,000 people, making the host less like recent cities such as Torino and Vancouver and closer to the villages of previous eras, like Albertville and Lillehammer. Nearby Gangneung, which will host many arena events, has a population of more than 200,000.
Here’s what you need to know as the Olympics begin an Asian swing (Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 follow PyeongChang):
New Events: The Winter Olympics will have more than 100 medal events for the first time, increasing from 98 in 2014 to 102. New to the program are men’s and women’s big air snowboarding and mass start speed skating, an Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling.
The big air medalists could very well be established stars in slopestyle snowboarding, which made its debut in Sochi. Likewise, mass-start speed skating favors established skaters in middle-to-long distances.
The Alpine skiing team event, where racers from each country go head-to-head in parallel slaloms, is already contested at the world championships.
Russian Debate: There have been calls to ban Russia entirely from international competition after a December report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency said there was evidence that Russian doping samples in Sochi were tampered with. A number of implicated Russian athletes were suspended in December, including Sochi medalists, but so far there has been no blanket ban and no medals stripped.
If Russia sends no team to PyeongChang, or a depleted team such as its Rio track and field contingent of one, it could drastically alter the results. Russia topped the medal standings in Sochi and finished third at the last Winter Olympics in East Asia at Nagano 1998.
NHL Participation: The NHL says it hasn’t decided if it will take a break in its 2017-18 season to participate in the Olympics for a sixth straight time. This mirrors the situation four years ago, when the NHL didn’t announce it would send players to Sochi until seven months before the Winter Games.
If the NHL does not participate, expect some players to push ownership to allow them to go anyway. Russian star Alexander Ovechkin has already stated his intention, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has given him the OK.
PyeongChang, not Pyongyang: As one Maasai tribe member learned, PyeongChang should not be confused with the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In fact, the “c” in “PyeongChang” was upped to help avoid confusion. The DMZ, or North Korean border, is actually in the province in which PyeongChang County is located. PyeongChang is about 60 miles south of the border and 80 miles east of Seoul.
North Korea boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It might not qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.