Pyeongchang to host 2018 Games
DURBAN, South Africa -- The victory margin was massive and the message loud and clear: Persistence paid off for South Korea in its third consecutive bid for the Winter Olympics.
After two stinging defeats in a decade of trying, the South Korean city of Pyeongchang finally won its Olympic prize Wednesday, burying two European rivals in a landslide vote for the 2018 Winter Games and bringing them back to the lucrative Asian market.
"We are grateful to people who persevere and are patient, and each time the bid has improved," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said.
The Koreans lost narrowly in the final round of voting for the 2010 and 2014 Games, but this time they defeated Munich and Annecy, France, by a one-sided margin that few had expected.
Pyeongchang's win was the second-biggest first-round margin in Olympic voting history. Salt Lake City and Innsbruck each won by 40 votes in their bids for the Winter Games (2002 and 1964, respectively).
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"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.
"I believe that all the IOC members understood our message. They understood it was right time, right place, right now."
Needing 48 votes for victory, Pyeongchang won an overwhelming 63 of the 95 cast in the first round of the secret ballot. Munich received 25 and Annecy seven.
"I was surprised by the one-round victory and I was surprised by the margin," Rogge told The Associated Press. "We had three technically equivalent bids and then the other factors came into play and definitely the patience and perseverance of the Koreans has been rewarded."
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, who delivered a speech in English during the final presentation, reminded the IOC of his country's successful hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, and said: "Now Korea wants to give back to the Olympic movement and to the world."
Pyeongchang will be the third city in Asia and first outside Japan to host the Winter Games. Japan held the games in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.
Under the slogan "New Horizons," Pyeongchang drove home the theme that it deserved to win on a third try by offering the potential of spreading the Olympics to a lucrative new market and become a hub for winter sports in the region.
"They have tried very hard and they have done everything that we told them to do and I think that a lot of people felt that they really deserved it," Norwegian IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg said. "And they will have a really good legacy for the whole of east Asia."
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.
"It's kind of like the Rio situation where it's time," Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. "They've been here twice already. ... They've done everything they've been asked to do. If you're a worldwide organization, you have got to be able to show that by moving around the world."
Waving Korean flags, Pyeongchang delegates in the conference hall erupted in cheers and chants after Rogge opened a sealed envelope and read the words they had longed to hear: "The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the 23rd Olympic Winter Games in 2018 are awarded to the city of Pyeongchang."
Lee turned to 20-year-old reigning Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, who was in tears.
"I am lost for words about now," Kim said. "I'm really excited. It will be very good to compete in my own country."
In Pyeongchang, hundreds of people watching a giant TV screen at a ski jump venue roared with delight, dancing, hugging and shedding tears of joy.
Despite South Korea's elation, worries about North Korea likely will linger over the Pyeongchang Games. The town of 47,000 people, 110 miles (180 kilometers) east of Seoul, is in Gangwon province, which shares a tense border with the communist country.
North and South Korea technically remain in a state of war, with their 1950-53 conflict ending in a truce, not a peace treaty, and tensions have been high since Seoul said North Korea sank a South Korean warship last year, killing 46 sailors. Also last year, North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing four people, including two civilians.
Still, both countries have cooperated before in the sports arena. In 2002, South Korea helped pay for North Korea to send cheerleaders to the Busan Asian Games. Athletes from the two Koreas also marched together in the opening ceremony at the Sydney and Athens Olympics.
Pyeongchang has stressed during its bids that a Winter Olympics would encourage a mood of peace and even prod North Korea into reaching out to the world.
There were no sympathy votes for the underdogs in the first round this time. Annecy's seven-vote total was the lowest since Quebec City got the same number in the first round of the 1995 ballot for the 2002 Winter Games, which was won by Salt Lake City.
In its presentation, 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 Rio's effective strategy, which used a world map to highlight that the Summer Olympics have never been in South America.
Munich, which hosted the 1972 Olympics and was seeking to become the first city to host both Summer and Winter Games, had tried to cut into Pyeongchang's geographical and sentimental pull. The Germans argued it was time to take the Winter Games back to their roots in Europe, noting that the country hadn't hosted a Winter Olympics since Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.
A sense of bitterness was expressed by IOC vice president Thomas Bach, a senior figure in Munich's bid. He suggested the Koreans had sought excessive sympathy from their previous failures.
"I think that was obvious in the Pyeongchang presentation," he said. "They were playing on this sympathy and compassion minute after minute. Rio was different. Rio did not play on previous defeats or sympathy or even compassion."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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