PyeongChang 2018 will be an event of real contrasts. In one sense, it’s fair to bill it as the biggest Olympic Winter Games of all time. With medals up for grabs in 102 events – the first time the number has hit triple figures – there’s going to be more sport to enjoy than ever, spanning 15 disciplines.
However, being centred on two small towns, PyeongChang and Gangneung, it will be a very intimate experience for both fans and athletes.
For Olympic visitors, the Republic of Korea will also offer real variety. This is a deeply traditional country dotted with beautiful Buddhist monasteries – but one that’s also on the cutting edge of technology. Riding the $3.7 billion bullet train from Seoul to PyeongChang in 69 minutes, then logging on to 5G internet when you get there, will prove the point.
Action will be split between the ski resorts of PyeongChang (skiing and sliding events) and the ice rinks of the Gangneung coastal cluster (figure skating, hockey, curling, short track and speed skating).
There has been major investment in new venues. In PyeongChang, the Alpensia area’s slopes and cross country trails have been given facelifts. There’s the Olympic sliding centre – the world’s newest bobsleigh track – and the tallest big air ramp in the world.
— PyeongChang 2018 (@pyeongchang2018) April 3, 2017
Who will be the star of the show? The Republic of Korea’s Magnus Kim, aged just 18, will be given incredible support in the men’s cross country skiing. The Koreans are also the world’s most successful Olympic short track nation, and it’s on the rink that their best chance of home glory lies. The likes of Choi Min Jeong and Seo Yi Ra will be under pressure to perform.
Also in the spotlight will be snowboarding superstar Chloe Kim – already an X Games snowboard superstar, and Estonian freestyle skier Kelly Sildaru, who turns 16 during PyeongChang 2018, but like Kim is already redefining her sport.
Winter sport superstars like Evgenia Medvedeva (figure skating), Sven Kramer (speed skating), Lindsey Vonn and Marcel Hirscher (alpine skiing), Martin Fourcade (biathlon) and Sara Takanashi (ski jump) will all be tipped to excel.
Perhaps an outsider’s tale will capture the imagination the most, though: the Nigerian bobsleigh team and even Brolin Mawejje, a Ugandan snowboarder, are looking like possible qualifiers.
Four new events are on the programme this time around. There’s the mixed doubles curling – a shorter version of the ice strategy match – and the mass start speed skating, which should bring some of the hustle of short track to the longer event.
The alpine skiing team event, meanwhile, features teams going head to head in parallel races and should be thrilling to watch. Likewise the big air snowboarding – in which competitors thunder down a ski jump and perform astonishing airborne trickery.
This is the third time the Winter Olympics have come to Asia, but the other two (Sapporo 1972 and Nagano 1998) have been in Japan. As the first of three consecutive Asian-based Olympics (Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 follow), the Republic of Korea will be keen to put on a show.
They’ve demonstrated their efficiency by completing their venues on time, and technology will be at the forefront of PyeongChang 2018. Look out for 360-degree virtual reality views of some events.
And keep your eyes open too, for Soohorang – although it’ll be hard to miss the official mascot in PyeongChang. The white tiger is a symbol of trust, strength and protection, and will be everywhere.