International Ice Hockey Federation

Korean Hockey Magic

Korean Hockey Magic

PyeongChang awarded 2018 Olympics in 2011

Published 15.08.2018 16:15 GMT+11 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Korean Hockey Magic
Photo: Andrey Basevich
A lot of good things have happened for Korean hockey in this decade. But the biggest boost came when PyeongChang earned the right to host the 2018 Olympics.

Leading up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, we’re looking back at some of the biggest developments in this sport in an ongoing series called “Korean Hockey Magic.”

The Korean work ethic is legendary, and even an abbreviated re-telling of PyeongChang’s road to the Winter Games makes it clear: persistence pays off. Korea had to bid not once, not twice, but three times before finally securing the third Winter Olympics in Asian history and the first outside Japan, which has hosted twice (Sapporo 1972, Nagano 1998).

PyeongChang is a county in the mountainous Gangwon province in the northeast of the Republic of Korea, long famed for abundant nature, Buddhist temples, and the Yongpyong ski resort, among other attractions. In 2002, when its bid made the final round of voting for the 2010 Olympics, it had strong governmental and public support, a well-conceived transportation plan, and a vision for a post-Olympic legacy. But the time wasn’t ripe for Olympic hockey to come to PyeongChang yet.

2 July 2003 was one of the happiest days in Vancouver’s history – and one of the saddest for PyeongChang. During the 115th IOC session in Prague, the first round of voting among delegates favoured PyeongChang with 51 votes, while Vancouver got 40, and Salzburg dropped out after getting just 16.

However, Canada’s West Coast metropolis picked up most of Salzburg’s vote in Round Two, and Vancouver edged PyeongChang 56-53. At GM Place (known as Canada Hockey Place during the 2010 Olympics), Canadians who had gathered to watch the verdict on the giant scoreboard erupted with cheers – foresaging what would happen there when Sidney Crosby got the golden goal in overtime against the United States in 2010. Marie-Philip Poulin scored twice to give Canada a 2-0 final win over the American women.

Undeterred, Korean organizers decided to bid again for the 2014 Olympics. But like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, it must have felt as if they were reliving a strange (and unwelcome) dream. Heading into the IOC vote in Guatemala City on 4 July 2007, the Koreans had plenty of goodwill left over from 2010, and their plan to invest heavily in new venues located close to one another drew acclaim. Yet again, they fell short.

With Russian president Vladimir Putin appearing in person to promote the Sochi bid, Russia claimed the right to host its first Winter Games. The voting was eerily similar to the last time, as PyeongChang led Sochi 36-34 in the first round, and Salzburg dropped out after getting just 25 votes. But in Round Two, Sochi heartbreakingly edged PyeongChang 51-47.

The stage was set for Canada to blank Sweden 3-0 in the 2014 men’s gold medal game seven years later, while the host Russians would finish empty-handed after losing 3-1 to Finland in the quarter-finals. And Poulin got the overtime winner as the Canadian women shocked the U.S. with a 3-2 comeback victory at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” PyeongChang applied this maxim to perfection when questing for 2018. Ramped-up public support, new and improved ski facilities, and travel times of less than an hour between all venues highlighted the “New Horizons”-themed bid.

On 6 July 2011, Korea’s dream of being just the fourth non-European country ever to host the Winter Olympics came true. At the 123rd IOC session in Durban, PyeongChang got a whopping 63 votes on the first ballot, eclipsing Munich (25) and Annecy (7). Wild celebrations burst out across Korea after succeeding in what had become, in the words of the Christian Science Monitor, a “national obsession.”

“Koreans have been waiting for 10 years to host the Winter Games,” said bid leader Yang Ho Cho. "Now we have finally achieved our dream.”

“We never gave up and tried again and listened to your advice and improved our plans,” added former Gangwon governor Jin Sun Kim.

Since then, the benefits for Korean hockey have been clear. Above and beyond PyeongChang, the national team also made it to the top division for the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark (Copenhagen and Herning) in May. It’s the first Asian nation to earn such a promotion independent of the old Far East Qualifier program, via which Japan played in the top division from 1998 to 2004.

The women’s team got more funding and has been centralized to prepare for the game with visible effects as well.

Beautiful Olympic hockey venues await the teams, fans, and media, with the Gangneung Hockey Centre (capacity 10,000) and the Kwangdong Hockey Centre (capacity 6,000) ready to go. Regardless of who wins the medals in 2018, this is already a golden age for Korean hockey.

Previous stories from the series:


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