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IOC satisfied with preparations for 2018 Winter Olympics

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Pyeongchang’s preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics are on course but South Korean organizers must step up efforts to promote the games worldwide, the head of the IOC’s inspection team said Friday.

Gunilla Lindberg, head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the games, said her team was satisfied with the progress they saw in their latest three-day inspection visit.

According to Pyeongchang organizers, construction is on schedule for a series of 26 test events scheduled from November to April. They said six new competition venues for the games are now 90 percent complete.

“We saw firsthand the progress of the construction projects,” Lindberg said at a news conference. “There is no doubt that the venues will be ready for the upcoming test events.”

“My colleagues and I leave here more confident than ever that Pyeongchang 2018 will deliver great games,” she added.

The first test event will be a World Cup snowboard big air competition from Nov. 23-26. Snowboard big air will make its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Games.

A new high-speed rail line – designed to link the country’s main gateway of Incheon airport with Pyeongchang in less than two hours – will be completed in June and start operations in January 2018.

Lindberg said that the biggest challenge left for Pyeongchang is promoting the Olympics across the world.

Pyeongchang, a sleepy ski resort town in South Korea’s mountainous east, is a much smaller destination than Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Beijing, which will host the 2022 Winter Games.

“The biggest challenge at the moment is … how to promote the games over the world, because this is a small place. It’s not Rio de Janeiro and it’s not London,” said Lindberg, who added that the upcoming test events, which will be televised internationally, will be an important opportunity to promote the games and showcase the level of preparation.

Another critical issue for Pyeongchang is securing the participation of National Hockey League players. IOC negotiations with the NHL have stalled over the IOC’s decision not to pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt “negative” about the chances the league’s players will appear for a sixth straight Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said NHL representatives have agreed to pay an inspection visit to Pyeongchang later this month, which he described as a “very positive step.”

Dubi didn’t offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.

“We definitely always try to have the participation of the best athletes. It is reassuring that NHL is coming to Pyeongchang and especially look at the operations in Gangneung,” he said.

“When it comes to the final participation … there is a date set at Jan. 15 to find an agreement,” Dubi said. “Until then it will be work between all parties involved to make sure that we get the participation of the very best, and that’s for both Pyeongchang and Beijing.”

The ice hockey tournament during the Pyeongchang Olympics will take place at a stadium in the nearby city of Gangneung.

Lee Hee-beom, head of the local organizing committee, said ticket sales will be launched in conjunction with the 1-year-to-go countdown in February.

MORE: Five athletes to watch at 2018 Winter Olympics

Matt, Becca Hamilton are first U.S. Olympic mixed doubles curling team

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A brother and sister from Wisconsin will be the busiest athletes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A month ago the Hamilton siblings, Matt and Becca, qualified to compete at the Olympics with the U.S. men’s and women’s curling teams, and today they also qualified to play as a mixed doubles team.

With a win over two of their teammates, John Shuster (skip of Matt’s four-man team) and Cory Christensen (alternate on Becca’s four-woman team), at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for mixed doubles curling, the Hamiltons earned the opportunity to curl on potentially every day of the Olympics.

The Hamiltons will start their Olympic competitions with the mixed doubles tournament on Thursday, Feb. 8, the day before the the Opening Ceremony marks the official beginning of the Olympics. When mixed doubles wraps up on Tuesday the 13th, they’ll start playing separately in the men’s and women’s tournaments on Wednesday the 14th. The traditional curling tournaments go until Sunday, Feb. 25, the day of the Closing Ceremony.

Of course, if one of their teams doesn’t advance past the round-robin rounds to the semifinals and medal games, they’ll have some time off. But if they do go all the way to the gold medal matches, it’ll mean 18 straight days of competition for the Hamiltons.

Matt and Becca showed their readiness during the Olympic Trials. They had the second-best record of the round-robin stage, 5-2, then beat Shuster and Christensen twice in two days to win the Olympic berth. The score of the final was 6-5.

After the match, the siblings–who say their partnership works because they can be brutally honest on the ice–had nothing but kind words for each other.

Becca, the younger Hamilton by a year and a half, said her older brother “taught me everything I know.”

Matt then said of Becca, “it’s been impressive to watch her grow up and become the superstar she is now.”

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VIDEO: Italian curlers go nuts after clutch shot qualifies for Olympics

Jessica Kooreman, Thomas Hong, Ryan Pivirotto earn last three spots on U.S. Olympic short track team

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Jessica Kooreman, Thomas Hong and Ryan Pivirotto grabbed the last three spots on the U.S. Olympic short track team on Sunday as competition wrapped up at the Olympic Trials.

Kooreman survived a fall in the last women’s race of the Trials, the 1000m #2 A Final, to finish second overall in the 1000m and earn a spot on the team that will race on Olympic ice in PyeongChang.

Kooreman, a 2014 Olympian, joined Lana Gehring, a 2010 Olympian and Maame Biney, a 17-year-old who will make her Olympic debut in 2018, on the U.S. Olympic women’s short track team.

At 34 years old, Kooreman will be the veteran of the team. Four years ago, she swept all three events at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials and then finished fourth in the 1000m at the Sochi Winter Games.

She struggled to breakthrough to the top spots at this Trials; she finished third overall in both the 1500m on Friday and 500m on Saturday.

Left off the team is Katherine-Reutter Adamek, a two-time Olympic medalist from Vancouver who retired in 2013 due to injuries before coming back in 2016 in hopes of making another Olympic team. Reutter is the American record holder and Olympic silver medalist in the 1000m, but her Olympic aspirations ended when she didn’t qualify for the 1000m #2 A Final today.

Hong, a native of South Korea who moved to the U.S. at 4 years old, finished fourth in the men’s 1000m #2 A Final, and fourth overall. Pivirotto didn’t qualify for that A Final, and had to watch from the sidelines as his Olympic fate was decided. Pivirotto clinched the fifth and final spot by finishing fifth overall across all distances.

The overall winner on the men’s side was John-Henry Krueger, who was nearly undefeated over the three days of racing and won four of six A Finals: both 1000m finals today, the 500m #2 final yesterday and the 1500m #2 final on Friday. 22-year-old Krueger was expected to make the Olympic team four years ago, but had to withdraw from some races at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials when he was diagnosed with swine flu.

J.R. Celski, the only member of the team with prior Olympic experience, had an uncharacteristically rough Trials with four falls in three days. However his results when he did stay on his skates were good enough to put him into second-place overall. The third overall men’s skater was Aaron Tran, who also make the Olympic team.

The U.S. Olympic short track team:

Lana Gehring
Maame Biney
Jessica Kooreman
John-Henry Krueger
J.R. Celski
Aaron Tran
Thomas Hong
Ryan Pivirotto

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MORE: J.R. Celski, Maame Biney join U.S. Olympic short track team