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Six months out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

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PyeongChang has been waiting to host the Olympics for more than 15 years. In six months, the cauldron will be lit at the South Korean ski resort in the Taebaek Mountains.

It took South Korea three tries to win the IOC vote to host its first Winter Olympics, after holding the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

The first PyeongChang Winter Olympic bid was launched around the year 2000 for a 2003 IOC vote to determine the 2010 Olympic host city. Vancouver beat PyeongChang by three votes. For 2014, Sochi topped PyeongChang by four votes.

Finally, the South Koreans won a landslide in 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games, securing 63 of the 95 votes to trounce Munich and Annecy, France.

The PyeongChang region is home to about 50,000 people, making the host less like recent cities such as Torino and Vancouver and closer to the villages of previous eras, like Albertville and Lillehammer. Nearby Gangneung, which will host many arena events, has a population of more than 200,000.

Here’s what you need to know as the Olympics begin an Asian swing (Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 follow PyeongChang):

New Events: The Winter Olympics will have more than 100 medal events for the first time, increasing from 98 in 2014 to 102. New to the program are men’s and women’s big air snowboarding and mass start speed skating, an Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling.

The big air medalists could very well be established stars in slopestyle snowboarding, which made its debut in Sochi. Likewise, mass-start speed skating favors established skaters in middle-to-long distances.

The Alpine skiing team event, where racers from each country go head-to-head in parallel slaloms, is already contested at the world championships.

Russian Debate: There have been calls to ban Russia entirely from international competition after a December report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency said there was evidence that Russian doping samples in Sochi were tampered with. A number of implicated Russian athletes were suspended in December, including Sochi medalists, but so far there has been no blanket ban and no medals stripped. Expect an IOC decision on Russian participation in the fall.

If Russia sends no team to PyeongChang, or a depleted team such as its Rio track and field contingent of one, it could drastically alter the results. Russia topped the medal standings in Sochi and finished third at the last Winter Olympics in East Asia at Nagano 1998.

A Different Hockey Look: The NHL sent its stars to five straight Olympics from 1998 through 2014, but it will not this time. This will make for a U.S. team more resembling a Miracle on Ice roster, but with a mix of collegians, European-league players, minor-leaguers and, potentially, retired NHL players.

Russia will be loaded since its top domestic league, the KHL (second only to the NHL in talent), will take a break in its season. Plus, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has said he plans to defy the NHL and play in the Olympics anyway, punishment notwithstanding.

PyeongChangnot Pyongyang: As one Maasai tribe member learned, PyeongChang should not be confused with the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In fact, the “c” in “PyeongChang” was upped to help avoid confusion. The DMZ, or North Korean border, is actually in the province in which PyeongChang County is located. PyeongChang is about 60 miles south of the border and 80 miles east of Seoul.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It might not qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.

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PYEONGCHANG 2018
Storylines | 18 US Stars | 18 Global Stars | Strange Olympic Hopefuls | Key events
Oldest US Olympian? | Youngest US Olympian? | Venue Photo Gallery | North Korea

Salt Lake City forms committee to weigh Olympic bid

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City has formed an exploratory committee to decide if the city will bid to host the Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030 — taking a key step toward trying to become a rare two-time host city.

The group made up of elected officials, business leaders and one key member of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City said Monday that it plans to make a recommendation to state leaders by Feb. 1.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Olympic Committee board said Friday that it was moving forward with discussions about bringing the Winter Games to America for either 2026 or 2030.

Because Los Angeles was recently awarded the 2028 Summer Games, a bid for 2030 would make more sense, chairman Larry Probst said Friday.

The USOC has until next March to pick a city; those expressing interest include Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nevada.

Innsbruck, Austria, said Sunday it wouldn’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, taking one more city out of the running. The hosting rights are set to be awarded in July 2019.

The same country hasn’t hosted back-to-back Olympics since before World War II, though when the International Olympic Committee scrapped its traditional rules and awarded 2024 (Paris) and 2028 (LA) at the same time, it indicated it was certainly open to new ideas.

Since 2012, Salt Lake City has been letting Olympic officials know the city was ready and willing to host again with a plan based on renovating and upgrading venues that have been in use since the Games ended.

The city had previously estimated it could put on a Winter Olympics for about $2 billion, but the committee will come up with a new cost estimate, said Jeff Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Robbins is one of three co-chairs on the committee along with Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Fraser Bullock, a key player in Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics.

Robbins said he thinks the city has a great shot at winning a bid based on the relatively low cost and because it has demonstrated it knows how to maintain venues and keep them in use, putting the city in line with Agenda 2020, the blueprint that IOC President Thomas Bach created for future Olympics calling for less spending on new venues and infrastructure.

There’s an eight-lane interstate running from the Salt Lake airport, which was upgraded for the Olympics, to Park City, which is the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Park City is the host for key U.S. training centers for freestyle skiing, speedskating and cross country skiing.

Overall, the area has hosted about 75 World Cup and world-championship events in winter sports since the Olympic cauldron was extinguished more than 15 years ago.

He said an expanded light rail train line grid around Salt Lake City and a $3 billion airport renovation already underway are two examples of how Salt Lake City is even better prepared now to host than in 2002.

But he and other organizers will also have to answer questions about a bidding scandal that marred the 2002 Games and resulted in several International Olympic Committee members losing their positions for taking bribes.

“You can’t control the past,” Robbins said. “The results of what happened I think would certainly speak volumes. While there was some challenges, we hosted arguably one of the best Olympics ever hosted.”

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Simone Biles announces new coach

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When Simone Biles begins her comeback in earnest next month, she’ll be training under a new coach — Laurent Landi — who coached one of her Olympic teammates, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Landi, a 39-year-old former French gymnast, guided Rio uneven bars silver medalist Madison Kocian at the Dallas-area gym WOGA, along with wife Cecile.

“[Landi] was in Dallas, which is not far away, and had recently left WOGA, and I had worked with alongside him and know how he is with athletes,” Biles said, according to the newspaper. “He does a good job not letting pressure get to the athletes. You can see some coaches get stressed but he doesn’t.”

Biles’ previous coach since she was 7, Aimee Boorman, left their Houston-area gym for a gymnastics job in Florida after the Rio Games.

Biles said last week she plans to return to full-time training Nov. 1 and return to competition next summer.

Kocian is now at UCLA and uncertain to return to elite gymnastics.

Two other Final Five members — Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez — have said they plan to return to training for a Tokyo 2020 run. But neither has announced a return to the gym like Biles.

The last member — 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas — has not said whether she will come back.

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