|PyungChang bid chief Cho Yang-ho(center) talks to reporters in Durban, South Africa|
SEOUL/DURBAN ― With just two days to go before the selection of the host country of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the South Korean delegation, joined by President Lee Myung-bak, is gearing up for its crucial last-minute pitch to bring the Games to PyeongChang.
PyeongChang, bidding for the third consecutive time after narrow defeats for the 2010 and 2014 games, is considered the frontrunner in the three-city race, with Munich a close second and Annecy, France, a distant third.
Nearly 100 members of the International Olympic Committee will cast their secret ballots on Wednesday in Durban. The results will be announced between 1500-1530 GMT Wednesday, around midnight Korean time.
President Lee, who arrived in the South African port city on Saturday, will lead PyeongChang’s final presentation before the IOC assembly on Wednesday. He rehearsed the presentation at the International Convention Center on Sunday morning.
His trip halfway around the world to Durban shows how much importance South Korea has attached to PyeongChang’s decade-long effort to host the Winter Olympics. PyeongChang lost narrowly to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics and then to Russia’s Sochi for the 2014 Games.
The town, about 180 kilometers east of Seoul, has emphasized that its hosting of the Olympics would help promote winter sports in Asia. So far, Japan is the only Asian nation to have hosted the Winter Games, at Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.
South Korea is a winter sports powerhouse in Asia and home to world figure skating star Kim Yu-na. The country finished fifth in the medal tally at last year’s Vancouver Olympics with six golds and came in third with 13 golds in this year’s Asian Games after Kazakhstan and Japan.
PyeongChang has also stressed that athletes wouldn’t have to waste time on the road because all facilities will be close together and accessible within half an hour.
The Korean delegation includes more than 100 officials and 80 support staff, including the country’s most famous winter Olympian, figure skating gold medalist Kim.
Many Koreans were upbeat about Pyeongchang’s chances after the resort received a largely positive assessment from IOC evaluators in February.
“We’re expecting good results since we worked really hard,” Cho Yang-ho, head of PyeongChang Bid Committee, said. “The atmosphere, I think, is good for us so far, but we don’t know until the final vote is counted,” he added.
Munich, bidding to become the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Olympics, is seen closely chasing PyeongChang. It is offering its own strong case, noting that by the time of the Games Germany will not have hosted a Winter Games in more than 80 years. The last time it did so was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936.
German President Christian Wulf and Chancellor Angela Merkel will be in Durban to promote the country’s bid. Merkel wrote a personal letter to the IOC members, urging them to support Munich. She wrote that the Olympic bid was a “national affair” for the Germans “of significant importance.”
“We want to invite the world to be our guest,” she said at the end of the letter.
By Lee Sun-young and news reports (email@example.com)