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Visa Olympic partnership comes full circle in Pyeongchang

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The Pyeongchang Winter Games mark the 30th anniversary of Visa’s Olympic partnership, a run that has and should continue to produce plenty of highlights.

The slogan “Everywhere you want to be” has been joined with the Olympic Movement for three decades.

Famous Visa commercials included the Dream Team, Michael Phelps swimming across the Atlantic Ocean, the velvety voice of Morgan Freeman and U.S. women’s ski jumpers fight for equality.

In 2018, Visa will head back to where it all started in South Korea.

“Our first [Summer] Games were the Seoul Games in 1988,” said Chris Curtin, ‎Visa’s Global Head of New Platform Marketing Transformation and Chief Digital Officer. “So, we’re kind of coming home in our own way to South Korea after 30 years of having a relationship with the IOC.”

Visa, the official payment technology partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the only payment card accepted at Olympic venues, will debut an interactive shopping experience for fans in Pyeongchang and for viewers back home.

“We gear up for the Games just like these athletes do,” Curtin said. “It’s nothing short of a Herculean effort.”

At the Olympics, which open Feb. 9, fans can make purchases with wearable payment devices — gloves, commemorative stickers and Olympic pins.

For those watching via NBC Olympics, Visa Checkout will offer a first-time, real-time experience.

Viewers will be directed to a newly launched digital platform where they can browse and buy gear from the Team USA Shop worn by athletes from the ice and snow to the medal podium.

“When you see your favorite U.S. athlete, and you are like, gosh, I wish I had that USA vest or USA shirt, we’re going to offer that up on the website, and you can buy that in real time,” Curtin said.

Another round of Visa’s memorable Olympic commercials will debut over the next two months, featuring athletes such as the Nigerian bobsled team. No African nation has competed in Olympic bobsled before.

“There’s a World’s Fair element to the Olympics that allows for if not begs for brands like Visa to showcase their best,” Curtin said. “The Olympics are important to us because they share a lot of the same attributes that we do. They’re global in nature. They stand for and recognize excellence. There’s a sense of nationalism, but, frankly, they all live in a village together.”

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Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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