Post-Olympic plan crucial for Pyeongchang 2018

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With some 1,100 days left before the kick-off of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, the organizers are striving to come up with plans to ensure the legacy of the nation’s first Winter Olympics. However, they do not appear close to providing a tangible plan thus far on how to evade an empty ghost town where the party has left.

To suggest a good precedent, The Korea Times interviewed Chairman of the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Organizing Committee (LOOC) Gerhard Heiberg. The event is widely considered to be the “standard” of the Winter Olympics. But before the alpine town hosted the Olympics, Lillehammer was unknown to the world, much like PyeongChang.

After Lillehammer held the Olympics two decades ago, the small and remote town in southern Norway has become a frequent choice for winter sports event organizers or athletes seeking place for training.

And Heiberg, who has been an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member since the Games, said the success was possible because of thorough plans before the event.

“Already from the start of the bid, we spent a lot of time on planning of the legacy and after-use of the different venues,” Heiberg said in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times. “After the Games, as planned, most of the Olympic Village was moved to the north of Norway as apartments for student housing, while some hotels were also moved to other cities after the event.”

According to “1994 Winter Olympics Report,” published by the LOOC six months after the Games, the organizers anticipated that for a small city like Lillehammer, it was clear that there would be no need for all the accommodation and housing built for the Olympic event. Thus, the organizers decided to build less permanent houses and build more temporary houses so that they can be moved to other parts of the country. The permanent part consisted of 185 houses, of which 141 were later sold privately. The rest were built as movable units.

The international media center was refurbished and turned into the Lillehammer University College a year after the game. Also, all sports venues are being used, drawing many athletes every year for training and competitions.

“We thought that our biggest headache would be the after-use of the bob and luge facility,” Heiberg said.

Lillehammer Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track was completed in 1992 to be the first sliding track in Norway. To have more use after the Games, bobsleighs with wheels (“Wheel-bobs”) were introduced during the summer of 1993 and are in operation throughout the summer season until now. In addition to bobsledding, a separate activity park was built to offer activities such as ATV riding and rifle practices.

“After having found a solution to using this venue, also in the summer time, we are happy to say that it functions very well, also economically,” he said.

Alike the LOOC, the sliding center for bobsleigh and luge events under construction in PyeongChang was a big headache for the Korean organizers because of the IOC’s move last year urging the host to split the events at venues outside of Korea out of concern that the center may have little use after the event. PyeongChang, however, said no to the suggestion.

“The building of massive stadiums is over,” Heiberg said. “Today, the IOC wants to have stadiums that can match the use after the Games. We do not want ghost buildings.”

Advice for PyeongChang

Heiberg recalled the LOOC had to come up with the legacy plans first to persuade Norwegians why the small town of some 26,000 people wanted to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

“In order for the population of Lillehammer and for Norway to accept that Lillehammer would like to stage the Games, we needed to have a plan for the legacy before our government gave the necessary economic guarantees,” he said. “And after the Games had finished, we had a fund for the after-use. That fund is still in use, which means that we do not lose much money every year on operating the venues.”

Also before the event, local communities were set up to study ways to deliver the legacy in the Games, such as tourism, new industries, new employment possibilities. Heiberg said he is proud to say the communities have been doing great and are still taking care of the legacy.

Heiberg was the chairman of the Evaluation Commission for the Winter Olympics 2010 and visited Gangwon Province, where encompasses the host counties of PyeongChang, Jeongseon and the city of Gangneung, to see proposed venues and facilities.

“We have a lot of national and international events in most of the disciplines with receiving many athletes every year for training. Of course, Korea could do the same in PyeongChang. If you plan this long time in advance and see to it that you have the right relations with the international sports federations,” he said.

Though the Lillehammer Olympics is regarded a great success, as Heiberg said, not all goals of LOOC could be achieved, especially creating long-term cash cow by boosting tourism in the region — one of the purposes of hosting the event.

According to “Mega-events and impacts on tourism; the predictions and realities of the Lillehammer Olympics,” a paper by Jon Teigland at the Western Norway Research Institute, 40 percent of the full-service hotels in Lillehammer have gone bankrupt five years after the Games.

In an interview with CNN, the Norwegian social scientist said Korean organizers “should be very careful about developing a lot of accommodation facilities if they have not seen strong growth in winter sports already.”

Heiberg said that PyeongChang Organizers work very hard, but they have some challenges in local sponsorships and geographic locations of PyeongChang and some other venues. However, he said he is convinced that the organizers will find some good solutions, adding, “There is still time for this.”

“For the success of the Games, it is important for the organizing country to get many medals for their own athletes. It is also very important to get lots of spectators and show their enthusiasm to the TV audiences around the world,” he added.

Nam Hyun-woo, Korea Times

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