The excitement, thrills, rejoicing and despair are all over. The Sochi Olympics, which captivated the hearts and minds of people around the world, has come to a close after a 17-day run.
We Koreans were also enthralled by the athletes’ performances, staying up until the wee hours to cheer for Team Korea and share both their victories and their losses. We were happy to see the excellent performances of star athletes like Kim Yu-na, Lee Sang-hwa and Park Seung-hi. We were impressed by those who did not lose heart in defeat.
From a purely athletic perspective, South Korea, which sent 71 athletes for all but one sport ― ice hockey ― to Sochi, did not perform very impressively. Korean Olympians came up short of their goal of winning at least four gold medals for a top-10 finish in the medal standing. With three gold medals, three silver and two bronze, South Korea finished in 13th place.
An expected yet still bigger problem was that Korean athletes only won medals in three ice sports ― short track, speed skating and figure skating. This tells us that we still have a long way to go. More efforts are needed to develop our competitiveness in sports like skiing, skeleton, luge, bobsled and curling.
On top of their athletic participation, Koreans at Sochi drew attention because we will be hosting the next Winter Olympics in 2018. Many Koreans felt pride and a sense of responsibility when they saw PyeongChang Mayor Lee Seok-rae take the Olympic flag from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in Sochi’s closing ceremony.
Koreans may well take pride in becoming the second Asian nation, after Japan, and the eighth in the world to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. The short list of this privileged group includes France, the U.S., Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia. This obliges us to prepare a well-organized, safe and efficient Games, taking lessons from Sochi and other past Olympics.
Russian organizers were criticized for spending too much on the Sochi Games, reportedly as much as $51 billion. This big budget was needed to build almost all the venues and infrastructure from scratch. Yet, Sochi drew criticism for ill-preparedness concerning its facilities, including the athletes’ village.
We cannot afford to host such an extravaganza. Nor do we have to. Wisely, the PyeongChang organizers are using or building facilities in neighboring cities like Jeongseon and Gangneung. Some facilities, including those for skiing events, are already in place. The organizing committee should stick to its projected budget of around $2 billion, plus $7 billion for infrastructure ― more than half of which is expected to go toward a high-speed rail line linking Seoul and the eastern city, to make the Games economical and efficient.
It may not be so desirable to link sports and politics. But we cannot think of the Olympic Games being held on our soil without considering North Koreans. Considering the unpredictability of inter-Korean relations, four years is a long time, but we need to endeavor to make North Korea a good part of the Olympic Games, which are meant to promote friendship, peace and harmony.
The world remembers well how the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the first Games in eight years to bring East and West together during the Cold War. Some pundits say that the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc’s participation in the Seoul Olympics helped them take up an open-door policy and resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.