South Korea’s Winter Olympic organisers downplay concern over North Korea’s nuclear threat

SOUTH Korea’s Olympic organisers have played down concern over ongoing tensions with North Korea, saying that work has been completed on all venues for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang organising committee, said the International Olympic Committee has made it very clear that the February 9-25 Winter Games will go ahead as scheduled.

“There is no Plan B,” Mr Lee said, speaking at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics shortly after the last rehearsal for Tuesday’s official flame-lighting ceremony.

“We know that the world is watching the current geopolitical situation on the Korean peninsula. We continue to work very closely with all the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure we can deliver a safe and secure games for everyone involved.”

SEE AUSTRALIA’S OLYMPIC TEAM

Pyeongchang Organising Committee chief Lee Hee-beom at the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia.
Pyeongchang Organising Committee chief Lee Hee-beom at the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia.Source: AP

Mr Lee said that all competition and non-competition venues are complete. He said infrastructure works, including high-speed rail and highways, are already done and will be fully operational by December.

Mr Lee added that his main concern for the games is the weather, saying artificial snow will be provided if needed.

Among the Australian team are snowboarder Torah Bright, figure skater Brooklee Hann, and speed skater Pierre Boda.

Meanwhile, in the rehearsal among the ruined temples and sports facilities of Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, a Greek actress playing the part of an ancient priestess offered a token prayer to the old pagan gods of the site.

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Actress Katerina Lechou (right) lights the Olympic flame at the Temple of Hera in Olympia.
Actress Katerina Lechou (right) lights the Olympic flame at the Temple of Hera in Olympia.Source: AFP

It was the traditional appeal for fire from heaven to light the Olympic flame, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun’s rays on her torch.

For a few fraught minutes, it looked as if Apollo and Zeus would not oblige. The priestess shifted position, walked around the mirror and tried again. On the third attempt, the sun slipped out from behind clouds for long enough to light the torch, which will serve as a back-up if Tuesday’s ceremony is overcast, as forecast.

Mr Lee was delighted, saying that Pyeongchang also won the games on its third bid, and said he isn’t really concerned whether it rains on Tuesday.

“Lighting the torch is important, the date is not so much important,” he said.

Second torchbearer for Pyeongchang 2018, former South Korean international footballer Park Ji-sung.
Second torchbearer for Pyeongchang 2018, former South Korean international footballer Park Ji-sung.Source: AFP

The first torchbearer will be Greek skier Apostolos Aggelis. He will then pass the torch to former Manchester United soccer player Park Ji-sung, a South Korean. The flame will be carried around Greece before reaching South Korea on November 1.

The South Korean leg of the relay will involve 7500 torchbearers, who will cover 2018km.

Mr Lee said that the torch relay and accompanying events should help boost ticket sales. He said that about 30 per cent of tickets have been sold domestically, and international sales are at about 50 per cent of the target.

“We will be able to achieve full stadiums,” Mr Lee said. “Koreans are late decision-makers.”

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