Like Albertville and Lillehammer before it, the world knew virtually nothing about Pyeongchang. It’s not even a town, it’s a rugged and somewhat remote county in South Korea that recently adapted CamelCase spelling so Pyeongchang could become PyeongChang in order to not confuse the world with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
Still, whatever you want to call it and however you want to spell it, one thing is incontrovertible about this frigid north Asian Alpine outpost: it is now, and forever will be, an Olympic Games locale.
Some places, like Salt Lake City, Vancouver and Beijing, are hardly defined by hosting the Winter Olympics. But now that the Olympic torch has burned in this once sleepy hamlet, Pyeongchang is happy to be indelibly etched in the annals of sporting history. It’s a very cool and well deserved legacy for this county and country.
The first criteria is the simplest: the eye test. With its endlessly radiant and crisp blue skies, these Games looked healthy and invigorating. The night time vista, with all of the venues essentially in one rolling shot, was even more impressive.
This looked like a major international event. The crowds were good, not great, but the medal ceremonies at Olympic plaza were festive and jammed affairs precisely choreographed to the nanosecond.
On the ground, the weather was the only thing that was cold and inhospitable. According to a friend, “Massive friendliness and everyone seems to love the Koreans. There are gazillions of volunteers always waving, singing ‘hello’, ‘good morning’ and ‘have fun’.”
Like any big event and country there is always a backstory and for South Korea that story begins with their somewhat unhinged stepbrother up in the attic. Much of the consternation and uncertainty was over what sort of antics the nuclear armed dictator of North Korea Kim Jong-un would get up to.
Thirty years ago when the Olympics were held in South Korea for the first time, the country was emerging from decades of darkness. Years of military rule and a presidential assassination in 1979 were part of the troubled past the government was trying to distance itself from. They were promising a new era of economic growth and democracy and hosting the Summer Games would be the most visible and tangible proof of that.
A technological and automotive giant, South Korea is on the cutting edge of redefining automation and efficiency in modern living. It’s that efficiency the International Olympic Committee so desperately craved.
Well, they certainly got it and while the cost of hosting for South Korea was a healthy US$13 billion, not everything in life is a ledger sheet. The global exposure for the country has been invaluable. Yes, it’s cold right now. But only in the weather charts.