The PyeongChang Winter Olympics will kick off in February next year. Things are coming together for the host nation.
For those of us who love soju and skiing in equal measure, the prospect of a Winter Olympics in South Korea is certainly exciting. A successful Olympic campaign could provide a huge boost to Korea’s ski industry. Already we’ve seen upgrades in transport and infrastructure that will benefit skiers for decades to come. With less than a year until PyeongChang 2018, things are coming together for the host nation. Here’s what you have to look forward to.
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics are set to begin on February 9 2018. Athletes from more than 80 different countries will compete across 15 disciplines in 102 events. The games will feature four new events, with an additional eight gold medals up for grabs. The Canadians will be eager to perform well in the mixed doubles curling; however, the spotlight will be on these two new events:
1. Alpine skiing team event
The alpine skiing team event is sure to be a crowd favourite. Mixed gender teams will face off in four head-to-head races, with the loser of each knockout round ousted from the competition. Each race is worth one competition point in a best-of-four scenario. In the event of a draw, the combined times of each team’s fastest man and woman will decide the winner.
Perennial favourites Austria were eliminated in the quarter finals of the 2017 World Championships. The fourth-seeded French team went on to claim the event. Austria will look to make amends at PyeongChang 2018, with slalom world champ Marcel Hirscher hoping to atone for his poor performance in St Moritz.
2. Big Air snowboarding event
Even more hotly anticipated is the first Olympic big air competition, set to feature the world’s most radical snowboarders. The event promises to offer some electrifying acrobatics (and perhaps some terrifying mishaps). Alpensia Ski Resort in Pyeongchang now boasts the world’s tallest big air ramp (a whopping 49 m). Athletes are given three attempts to impress, with scores based on technical difficulty, style and variety.
The Canadians look set to dominate the men’s event with big names Mark McMorris and Max Parrot competing strongly in recent competition. McMorris top scored at the 2016–17 FIS Snowboard World Cup (competed over six events), while Parrot nabbed gold at the 2017 Winter X-Games in Aspen. In the women’s event, Austria’s Anna Gasser is the overwhelming Olympic favourite, having sealed gold at the Sierra Nevada World Championships in March. She is the first woman to have achieved a perfect score of 100 in the big air discipline.
The next generation
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics unearthed the likes of Yulia Lipnitskaya and Mikaela Shiffrin, who at 14 and 18 became the youngest in Olympic history to win gold in their respective events. Shiffrin, now aged 22, will be the odds-on favourite at PyeongChang 2018. The Coloradoan slalom skier has dominated the event in recent years and is a mainstay at the top of the FIS leader board.
Just as Shiffrin did at Sochi, the next generation looks set to to rile the competition at PyeongChang, with several teenagers in hot contention for medals (gold at that!). Korea’s Magnus Kim, just 18 years old, will be a crowd favourite in the men’s cross country skiing. But we suspect it will be these youngsters who make the biggest waves:
3. Kelly Sildaru
Born in 2002, Kelly Sildaru will turn 16 one week into her Olympic campaign. The Estonian freestyle skier first took to the slopes at the age of two, picking up major sponsors Nike and K2 as a pre-teen. At 13 years old, Sildaru won slopestyle gold at the 2016 Winter X Games, becoming the youngest, shortest and lightest competitor to achieve such a feat. She defended her title in January of this year, also taking silver in the women’s big air. Since 2013, she’s won 20 of 22 AFP slopestyle contests.
Sildaru’s rise in the sport defies logic. Estonia is more or less devoid of mountains. Its highest peak is just 318 m above sea level. Sildaru learnt to ski on her uncle’s snowblades, refining her aerial skills on a trampoline. Given her youth, no one can predict what she’ll bring to PyeongChang 2018. Sildaru is already redefining the women’s sport, pushing the envelope of what’s possible.
Younger brother Henry, just 10 years old, is already competing with his sister for media attention. One to look out for in the future!
4. Chloe Kim
At just 17 years old, snowboarder Chloe Kim is one of team USA’s strongest medal contenders. Kim’s dominant event is the halfpipe, with plenty of gold to show for it. Her first taste of Olympic glory came at the 2016 World Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. In the same year, the Burton rider took halfpipe gold at the Winter X Games in Aspen and Oslo.
Since bursting onto the world stage at 13, Kim has racked up a long list of achievements. She is the only woman to have landed back-to-back 1080s in competition, and is one of only two athletes, male or female, to have scored a perfect 100 in a top-level halfpipe event (the other being dual Olympic gold medalist Shaun White). In 2015, Time Magazine named her as one of the world’s most influential teens. She reclaimed her spot on the list in 2016.
Kim grew up in a Korean-speaking household. Her parents emigrated from the Olympic host nation before she was born. This will surely endear her to home supporters come February.
The underdog factor
Nations from Europe and North America dominate the Winter Olympics’ all-time medal table. South Korea is the highest placed Asian country, having won more gold than Japan and China combined. But some of the best stories from the winter games come from further afield. At the Calgary games in 1988, spactators rallied behind a wildly inexperienced Jamaican bobsleigh team. The story was later immortalised in the 1993 Hollywood release Cool Runnings.
PyeongChang looks to score big on the underdog factor, with athletes from the Caribbean and Africa set to qualify. Those who remember the 1988 games might be particularly intrigued by this next team of Olympic hopefuls:
5. Nigerian Bobsleigh Team
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga make up Nigeria’s first ever bobsleigh team. The three women—all former track & field athletes—need only compete in three more races to qualify for PyeongChang 2018. No African nation has previously competed in an Olympic bobsleigh event. Africa doesn’t even have its own bobsleigh federation, though the girls are looking to correct this.
In order to compete next February, several major hurdles need to be overcome. The girls don’t yet have their own bobsled. They currently borrow one from the Utah Olympic Park. Adigun, the team’s driver, is attempting to raise $150,000 to cover Olympic expenses. In addition to a new bobsled, the trio needs money for gear, shipping and transportation. At this point, they sit well short of their goal.
6. Jamaican Hockey Team
Jamaica’s Winter Olympic endeavors are well known (thanks to a certain movie). However, the Caribbean nation is yet to produce a medalist. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Jamaica fielded a one-man team—American-born skier Errol Kerr. His 9th place finish in the ski cross stands as the greatest achievement by a Caribbean athlete at the winter games. But Jamaica’s national hockey team hopes to improve on this.
The team, coached by former Boston Bruin Graeme Townshend, comprises a mix of American and Canadian-born athletes, many of whom have competed in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League). Unfortunately, Olympic plans are still hypothetical, with the team facing an uphill battle to qualify. The International Hockey Federation has barred Jamaica from competing until it has its own ice rink and development program. As it stands, the tropical island nation has no plans for either. Hopefully Jamaica’s recent 5-1 victory over Nova Scotia will prompt the federation to reconsider its stance.
New transport & infrastructure
As a skiing destination, South Korea is often overlooked. Two-time Olympic host Japan is Asia’s undisputed home of snow sports. Japan’s ski industry is long established, its first resort having opened in the 1930s. By comparison, Korea was late to the game. Yongpyong, the country’s premier ski resort, was constructed in 1974.
But the Olympics should provide a much needed boost to Korea’s lagging ski industry. Already we’ve seen upgrades in infrastructure that will benefit skiers for decades to come. Here’s hoping this continues.
7. Bullet train to the slopes
Olympic organisers have announced the completion of a $3.7 billion bullet train line connecting Seoul with Pyeongchang. Pyeongchang is home to several ski resorts including Yongpyong, Bokwang Phoenix Park, and Alpensia—all of which will serve as Olympic venues. The journey from Seoul will take an estimated 69 minutes. Prior to this, the highway served as the fastest route between the two cities. Shuttle buses from Seoul take up to three hours to reach Pyeongchang.
The train itself was designed by Hyundai Motor Company, Korea’s largest automotive manufacturer, and will travel at up to 300 km/h. By comparison, Japan’s world-renowned shinkansen trains reach speeds of 320 km/h. Ten trains will run to and from Pyeongchang, each holding up to 400 passengers.
Technology & entertainment
South Korea is at the forefront of technological innovation, with companies such as Samsung and LG accounting for much of its economic success. Samsung has been an official Olympic partner since 1997 and will play a large role in the upcoming winter games. LG, too, has joined PyeongChang’s sponsorship program. Inevitably, these Olympics will showcase some extraordinary technologies.
8. 5G wireless network
KT, South Korea’s largest telecom provider, is aiming to launch a 5G network in time for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The technology will allow users to access internet speeds of up to 20Gbps. This is fantastic news for winter sports fans. Olympic coverage stands to be more in-depth than ever before. Spectators will have access to ultra high definition content, including 360° VR views of certain events. KT is even looking to mount cameras on athletes, offering fans a more immersive experience. At a media event last year, the company trialed its ‘Bobsleigh Sink View’—a helmet cam that shows the rider’s viewpoint.
KT will install the network in Pyeongchang, its surrounding areas, and parts of Seoul. The company is looking to launch its commercial 5G service in 2019, 12 months ahead of schedule. KT is in competition with companies worldwide in setting the global standard for 5G. The stakes are high for a successful test run at PyeongChang 2018.
9. Samsung VR Studios
Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, is looking to revolutionise the way in which sport is watched. The Korean tech conglomerate has announced it will build several VR studios for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Lucky fans will be able to watch the games in an immersive 360° environment. The studios will be located at venues in Pyeongchang and Gangneung, as well as Seoul.
A test run was conducted at the 2016 Lillehammer Youth Olympics in Norway. During the opening ceremony, Samsung delivered the world’s first ever VR live stream. By all accounts, the event was a success. PyeongChang attendees can expect a similarly immersive spectator experience.
10. The K-Pop Factor
Love it or hate it, K-pop is taking over the world, one Koreaboo at a time. South Korea will look to capitalise on K-pop’s global popularity by injecting it into the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Girl’s Day, a popular girl group featuring TV actress Hyeri, has been named an honorary ambassador of the games. Plenty of big names have also featured in promotional events, including BTS, VIXX, Red Velvet and A-Pink. It’s not yet known who will perform at the opening and closing ceremonies, but no doubt an injection of K-pop will please fans.