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.
PyeongChang, not 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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