Korea Becomes 6th Nation to Land Sports 'Grand Slam'

Korea Becomes 6th Nation to Land Sports 'Grand Slam'

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A decade of passion, effort and frustration ended in tears of triumph for PyeongChang Thursday (KST) when International Olympic Committee (IOC) voters rewarded the Korean resort town on its third consecutive bid for the Winter Games.

Driving the resilient Korean campaign had been an unlikely trio — a persistent head of state, a beaming figure-skating starlet and a business tycoon seeking redemption.

PyeongChang, which lost to Vancouver and Sochi respectively for the right to host the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, sealed its win in the first round of voting in Durban, South Africa, garnering 63 of the 95 IOC votes to bury rival European candidates Munich and Annecy.

With the 2018 Winter Games in the bag, Korea becomes the sixth nation to land the “grand slam” of international sporting events, which are the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, scheduled for Daegu later this year.

Korean officials are hoping that the hosting of the Winter Games will herald PyeongChang’s arrival as one of the world’s premier ski resorts and further establish the country as a winter sports destination for travelers in Asia and beyond.

The IOC decision was obviously a relief for Korean President Lee Myung-bak, there in Durban to receive showering accolades after jetting halfway around the world to give the Korean candidacy a last-minute pitch.

Fate has been kinder to him than the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, who wore a dejected look in Guatemala four years ago when PyeongChang was dealt a narrow defeat at the hands of Russia.

The winning bid is a welcome break for Lee, who appears to have entered the toughest stretch of his presidency as the pre-election government struggles to deal with waning popularity, a sluggish economy and a deteriorating relationship with North Korea.

Despite having his work cut out for him over domestic issues, Lee still managed to be an assertive presence in the Olympic bid.

The CEO-turned-president had fully deployed his people skills, making an effort to include PyeongChang in his conversations with other heads of state and diplomats, and often staying up until the wee hours to make personal phone calls to IOC members in different time zones, Cheong Wa Dae officials said.

During the 17-hour flight from Seoul to Durban, Lee practiced his English-language presentation for IOC voters until his voice turned hoarse, according to reporters who accompanied him. On the podium, Lee sounded convincing enough and his presence reflected a level of financial and political commitment the governments of other candidate cities struggled to match.

“This is a victory for the Korean public. My fellow Koreans, thank you!” Lee exclaimed to reporters moments after IOC President Jacques Rogge announced the winning bid.

“For the past 10 years, the people of Gangwon Province never gave up. The past failures made them even more enthusiastic.”

Although PyeongChang had managed to put itself on the map with its previous near-misses, it still lacked a public face, a globally transcendent athlete with Olympic clout and photogenic genes. The half-hearted cameo appearance by a video-recorded Alberto Tomba, which drew laughs from the audience in Guatemala, obviously shouldn’t count.

Enter Kim Yu-na, Korea’s reigning Olympic champion in women’s figure skating and perhaps the sport’s one true megastar since Germany’s Katarina Witt, who was in Durban as well to endorse Munich’s case.

Kim, whose gold in Vancouver made her the first female figure skater to achieve the “grand slam” of winning the World Grand Prix Final, the Four Continents Championships, the World Championships and the Winter Olympics, is taken as the personal epitome of a nation that is beginning to earn its stripes in winter sports.

Through her grueling training hours and endless media commitment, Kim carried on with her duties as PyeongChang’s star spokeswoman, chasing IOC events around the world and frequently appearing in interviews with global news organizations such as CNN. Whether she will be competing long enough to attempt for Olympic glory at home remains to be seen.

“I am delighted to be part of such a glorious moment … I felt an enormous amount of pressure as I feared that any mistake by me could hurt our candidacy, so this feels even better,” said a teary Kim, who was one of the first members of the organizing committee to arrive in Durban and participated in a clinic for young figure-skating enthusiasts in South Africa days ahead of the IOC meeting.

“I had a good dream last night where the bidding committee’s Chairman Cho Yang-ho appeared, so I had a good feeling about the vote.”

PyeongChang’s triumph in Durban doubles as redemption for Lee Kun-hee, the chairman of global technology giant Samsung and one of the country’s IOC members.

Lee’s brilliant corporate career was somewhat tarnished in 2008 amid a corruption scandal that had prosecutors charge him for tax evasion and breach of trust. Lee then shocked the country by resigning on live television from the conglomerate his father founded seven decades ago and which he had led for two decades.

Lee returned to Samsung’s management helm last year after receiving a special pardon by President Lee, who withstood critics and claimed the country needed the help of the long-time chairman to win its Olympic bid.

So obviously, Lee needed no extra motivation in promoting PyeongChang’s bid to IOC members and businessmen around the world. Samsung officials claim that Lee traveled more than 210,000 kilometers around the world in past years for promotional events related to PyeongChang.

PyeongChang becomes the first candidate to win an Olympic bid after the first round of voting since 1995, when Salt Lake City clinched the right to host the 2002 Winter Games. A winning bid requires support from the majority of IOC voters.

The 2018 Winter Games will be the first in Asia since the 1998 Nagano Olympics in Japan, and the third overall on the continent. After its previous setbacks, PyeongChang renewed its campaign under the slogan “New Horizons,” describing that its hosting of the Olympics could provide an opportunity to promote and develop winter sports in the largely-untapped market of Asia.

“PyeongChang presented a strong and inspiring project that enjoys massive support from the government and the public,” Rogge said in a news conference in Durban.

“I have every confidence that PyeongChang will deliver on its commitment and host excellent Games in 2018. PyeongChang’s inspiring project sets out to have the heart of the Olympic Winter Games beating in the mountain.”