Pyeongchang takes center stage of the sporting world on Friday, hosting elite athletes for the Winter Olympics and hoping to raise its profile as a winter resort destination. But if you had never heard of Pyeongchang before now, you’re not alone.
Pyeongchang is a county, not a city, and and up to now it has been known primarily as a rural mountain retreat, with a population of just over 40,000 people, located about 40 miles from the demilitarized zone and North Korea. It has Buddhist temples and a reputation for a healthful climate. But it wants a reputation as a sports mecca. And so now, 30 years after Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics, Pyeongchang is seizing the spotlight.
Here’s a rundown of more things to know about this place that finds itself welcoming tens of thousands of athletes, media and spectators.
“Happy 700” in Pyeongchang
Hosting the Winter Olympics has been a longtime pursuit for officials in Pyeongchang and its home province of Gangwon: It took three tries for the county to finally win the right to host the games.Pyeongchang promotes itself as having an ideal climate – in part because a phalanx of mountains help block air pollution from the northwest, and in part because of the “Happy 700” — the 700-meter altitude (about 2,300 feet) that Pyeongchang’s boosters say is optimal for the health of people and animals.
Not long now before the cowbells start ringing and the PyeongChang hills echo to the sound of alpenhorn.
Yes the 23rd Winter Olympiad is slaloming toward us at pace. The mixed doubles curlers have the honour of sweeping us into the action on Thursday morning local time, followed by the men’s ski-jumping qualification in the afternoon.
The low impact intro continues on the rink on Friday, a day dominated by the opening ceremony in a $110 million pop-up stadium with a capacity of 35,000. The structure has a four-gig run, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the winter and Paralympic games before being torn down. Sorry West Ham United, you can’t have it.
Fears of inhospitable temperatures low enough at -20 degrees centigrade to freeze nasal cavities have eased, although at -10 and without a roof the 243-strong American team might still have to activate their heated parkas, shot through with heat-conducting ink.