SKorea's Pyeongchang awarded 2018 Winter Olympics

By The Associated Press

DURBAN, South Africa — Persistence paid off for the South Korean city of Pyeongchang.

After a decade of trying and two defeats, it won the right to host an Olympics — the 2018 Winter Games — beating two European rivals Wednesday in a landslide vote.

“Koreans have been waiting for 10 years to host the Winter Games,” bid leader Cho Yang-ho said. “Now we have finally achieved our dream.”

Pyeongchang routed Munich and Annecy, France, in the first round of a secret ballot of the International Olympic Committee. Needing 48 votes for victory, Pyeongchang received 63 of the 95 votes cast. Munich received 25 and Annecy seven.

The Koreans narrowly lost in previous bids — the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

Pyeongchang will be the first city in Asia outside Japan to host the Winter Games. Japan held the games in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.

“I was surprised by the one round victory,” IOC President Jacques Rogge told The Associated Press. “I was surprised by the margin. Definitely the patience and perseverance of the Koreans has been rewarded.

“The fact they showed the vision that they wanted to introduce winter sports in Asia has also played a role.”

Korean delegates erupted in cheers in the conference hall after Rogge opened a sealed envelope and read the words: “The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the 23rd Olympic Winter Games in 2018 are awarded to the city of Pyeongchang.”

Waving Korean flags and wearing bid scarves, the Pyeongchang delegates broke into chants. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak shook hands with reigning Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, who was in tears.

“I am lost for words about now,” Kim told the AP. “I can’t say anything right now. I’m really excited. It will be very good to compete in my own country.”

It was the first time an Olympic bid race with more than two finalists was decided in the first round since 1995, when Salt Lake City defeated three others to win the 2002 Winter Games.

Had no majority been reached in the opening round, the city with the fewest votes would have been eliminated and the two remaining cities gone to a second and final ballot.

Pyeongchang had been determined to win in the first round after its previous two defeats. The Koreans had led in each of the first rounds in the votes for the 2010 and 2014 Games but then lost in the final ballots to Vancouver and Sochi.

Munich had tried to cut into Pyeongchang’s geographical and sentimental pull by arguing it was time to take the Winter Games back to their traditional roots in Europe.

“Today the decision was about a third bid,” Munich bid CEO Bernhard Schwank said. “Pyeongchang, a new market, the new horizons. It was a clear decision about the direction where they want to take the games to.”

Pyeongchang, whose slogan is “New Horizons,” campaigned on the theme that it deserved to win on a third try and will spread the Olympics to a lucrative new market in Asia and become a hub for winter sports in the region.

The Korean victory followed the IOC’s trend in recent votes, having taken the Winter Games to Russia (Sochi) for the first time in 2014 and giving South America its first Olympics with the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In their presentation to the IOC before the vote, Pyeongchang delegates asked the IOC to reward the country’s persistence after 10 years of bidding.

“We never gave up, and tried again and listened to your advice and improved our plans,” said Kim Jin-Sun, the former governor of Gangwon Province, where Pyeongchang is located.

“I believe it is my destiny to stand in front of you for the third time,” he said, his voice choking and eyes welling with tears. “Our people have waited for over 10 years for the Winter Olympics. Today I humbly ask for your support for the chance of hosting the Winter Games for the first time in our country.”

Going last in the presentations, Pyeongchang hammered home the message that South Korea has shown its determination time and again.

“We have kept our commitment to the Olympic family for over 10 years,” said Cho, the bid chairman. “We have been preparing for quite a while. We are ready.”

President Lee, speaking entirely in English, recalled the impact on his country of hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

“Now Korea wants to give back to the Olympic movement and to the world,” he said. “Pyeongchang 2018 is a national priority of the Korean government and has been so for the last 10 years. I guarantee you the full and unconditional support of the Korean government.

“We worked hard, we’ll make you proud.”

Pyeongchang displayed a world map showing where the 21 Winter Olympics have been held — 19 in traditional markets in Europe and North America and only two in Asia. It was a page out of the effective strategy employed by Rio, which used a world map to highlight that the Summer Olympics had never been in South America.

The Koreans also took a dig at Munich’s claim that the Winter Games should be “replenished” by returning to their European roots.

“If any region needs replenishment, we humbly propose that it is Asia,” bid spokeswoman Theresa Rah said.

In a lighthearted moment, Korean Olympic Committee head Park Yong-sung congratulated Prince Albert II of Monaco, an IOC member, on his wedding last weekend to former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.

“I’m sorry you are spending your honeymoon listening to a Pyeongchang presentation for a third time,” Cho said. “I promise to make it up to you in Pyeongchang in 2018.”

Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and a senior leader of Munich’s bid, noted that Germany was making its fourth Winter or Summer Olympics bid in recent years and that it has been more than 70 years since the country hosted the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.

“Today’s decision is not about how many times someone has bid or how long we have been waiting, this decision today is about the merits and only the merits,” he said. “The question is whether now to explore new territories again or time to strengthen our foundations.”

Annecy took a simpler, more human approach in its campaign for an “authentic” ecologically friendly games in the heart of the French Alps.

“The host city must have a soul,” French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said, a subtle dig at Annecy’s bigger-budget and glitzier rivals.