2018 Winter Olympics

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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

NHL’s participation in 2018 Olympics still undecided

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TORONTO (AP) — The World Cup of Hockey will return, without a doubt, and avoid another 12-year break.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr both confirmed for The Associated Press on Friday that they expect the next World Cup of Hockey to be in 2020.

It is much less certain whether the best players will go to South Korea to participate in the 2018 Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel told the AP on Tuesday the odds of NHL players going to the Pyeongchang Games were 50-50, a slight upgrade from his forecast in May.

Later the same day, Daly said he felt more “negative,” about the chances the league’s players will be in a sixth straight Olympics due to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to not pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

Fehr, who represents players who have made it clear they want to be in the Olympics, said he’s more optimistic than pessimistic a deal will get done.

The union head insisted he isn’t concerned about the IOC’s stance.

“Everybody understands that nobody’s going to risk their career and future earnings and all the rest of it in return for no compensation and no coverage,” Fehr told the AP. “No one will do that. They understand that. That’s been a given for a long, long time. If it plays out that way, which I do not expect it to play out that way, we’ll deal with it.”

The IOC isn’t buying the banter.

“I think both sides are playing poker,” president of the International Ski federation Gian Franco Kasper, who represents winter sports on the IOC executive board, said Friday in an interview with the AP.

The IOC does not want to continue its past practice of paying for NHL players’ travel and insurance because it doesn’t want to have to do the same for athletes in other sports.

Fasel said it is his job to raise the money needed, which he estimates to be about $10 million. Fasel said he plans to “beg,” for the funds from national Olympic committees and hockey federations. He acknowledged using some of the $40 million the IOC gives the IIHF to fund its programs, including development opportunities for boys and girls, could be used to bring the best hockey players to South Korea.

Daly said the NHL would like a final decision to be made by the end of the year so that it can set the 2017-18 schedule with or without a break midway through the slate for the Olympics.

The World Cup of Hockey, which the NHL and NHLPA teamed up to bring back for the first time since 2004, does not conflict with the league’s schedule because the games were played during training camp and early preseason games.

Playing hockey in late September, however, is not an ideal time to draw TV viewers in the U.S. in part because of interest in the NFL, college football and baseball.

Game 1 with Canada and Team Europe in the World Cup finals on Tuesday night – without direct competition from football – drew just 494,000 viewers on ESPN. A mere 297,000 people tuned in to watch Sweden face Europe in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon on the cable network. With a potentially interesting matchup with Canada and Russia, just 353,000 were watching hockey on ESPN.

Daly acknowledged it was a “challenge,” to engage Americans enough to watch the event. It did not help that the U.S. and North American Under 23-teams didn’t make it to the semifinals of the eight-team tournament.

It was also, surprisingly, difficult to fill seats at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs despite being in hockey hotbed even though the league said ticket sales went very well. It seemed many more people were interested in attending Toronto Blue Jays games when world-class hockey matchups and playoff-push baseball games were played at the same time.

The level of hockey, at times, was impressive. And, the atmosphere was electric when Canada rallied from a one-goal deficit in the final few minutes Thursday night to beat Europe 2-1.

During many stretches of play, however, the World Cup of Hockey didn’t do enough to fire up fans in attendance.

Days before Canada beat Europe 2-0 in the best-of-three series to win the World Cup, Canadian coach Mike Babcock seemed to sum up the situation best.

“The World Cup is great. It’s not the Olympics,” Babcock said in an unsolicited comparison of the two events. “Let’s not get confused.”

MORE: Shannon Szabados signs with different men’s pro hockey team

Pyeongchang Olympic organizers optimistic with 500 days to go

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Marking the 500-day countdown to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, organizers said Tuesday that 90 percent of construction of new venues is complete and the focus is now on preparing for test events.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee said construction is on schedule for a series of sports competitions scheduled from November to April that will serve as rehearsals for the Olympics, which begin Feb. 9, 2018.

The six new competition venues for the games are now 88 percent complete and 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 next June and start operations in January 2018, organizers said.

The preparations are undergoing a transition from the “planning phase to operational readiness,” the organizing committee said in a statement.

“Asia has immeasurable potential to become the frontier of winter sports. Pyeongchang has been dedicated to promote winter sports and attract investments throughout Asia,” the committee said.

Noting that the 2018 Games will be the first of three consecutive Olympics in Asia, the committee said Pyeongchang will be an “opportunity to establish even closer links among the next host countries and build bridges through sports.”

Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, while Beijing will stage the 2022 Winter Games.

Pyeongchang organizers have overcome delays, local conflicts over venue constructions and difficulties attracting domestic sponsorships in past years. Optimism over preparations has increased after the successful hosting of the first round of test events at Alpine venues earlier this year.

Despite a slow start, organizers say more than 80 percent of the domestic sponsorship target of $850 million has been met and that they expect to reach 90 percent of the target by the end of the year.

A program of cultural events featuring pop singers and local sports stars was held in Seoul on Tuesday evening to mark the start of the countdown.

MORE: 500 Days to Pyeongchang: Five athletes to watch