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Before the Champions

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In February, the snow-covered Pyeongchang will be on fire: Korea is hosting the Olympic Winter Games. Meanwhile, these slopes are yours

A sculptural composition in the center of the Korean Alpensia ski resort depicts three kneeling men with muscled torsos – no cloth but giant smooth thimbles covering them from head to shoulder. This is more proof to the fact that South Korea can be surprising. Also, courage, boldness and love for sport (without which such fine physical forms as those of the three gentlemen wouldn’t be possible) distinguish the Koreans.

The Koreans have been waiting patiently for their Olympic Winter Games since 2003. Succeeding Vancouver and Sochi, Korea opens the Asian period in the history of the Games: in the summer of 2020, the Olympic flame will light up in Tokyo, and then in Beijing in the winter of 2022.

The first on the peninsula

Though South Korea has never been really associated with alpine skiing, and the 2018 Olympic Games is partly intended to arouse the love of the locals for the rides down snow-covered slopes, the first ski resort was founded here a long time ago, in 1975.

Yongpyong was built on the initiative of the businessman and religious figure Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church movement. The resort, of course, is open to all. High status sports events are constantly hosted here – from the Asian Winter Games of 1999 to the Alpine Skiing World Cup. In 2009, for the first time in Asia, the 43rd Biathlon World Championships took place in Yongpyong. At the Olympics, men and women will compete in slalom skiing here.

Easy to memorize

Phoenix Park is the only Olympic site easy to memorize for Europeans. But it also has a Korean title: Bokwang, pronounced as “Pogvan” (better to get used to the peculiarities of Korean pronunciation, where voiceless and voiced consonants always change places, before the Olympics). This winter, Phoenix Park will host men’s and women’s snowboard and freestyle competitions.

The resort was built in 1995. Since then, it has served not only as a venue for snowboarding competitions but also as a set of the famous Korean series Winter Sonata and Autumn in My Heart. In addition to sports, guests of the resort can entertain themselves with karaoke or a game of billiards, as well as go to the water park Phoenix Blue Canyon or to the Hongjeong Valley waterfalls.

Forbidden ginseng

If the Pyeongchang region was not widely known before the Olympics, the neighboring Jeongseon was a secluded place all the more. Until recently, only folklore lovers knew about it: one of the versions of the popular Korean folk songs, “Arirang”, originated there.

The Alpine Center, where skiers will compete in downhill, super-G and alpine combined, was built specifically for the Games and already had time to be tested during the last two World Cups in alpine skiing. There is evidence that the mountain on which the trails lie was considered sacred during the reign of the Joseon Dynasty: wild ginseng grew here and was collected exclusively for the royal court.

Game with high stakes

Alpensia’s Ski Jumping Stadium has already become one of the symbols of the upcoming Olympics: the tower standing on the mountain, glowing like an UFO at night, is visible from afar. The decision to build Alpensia was made by the state in 2003 – the very year when the then IOC President Jacques Rogge announced that Korea lost to Vancouver. The failure did not distracted Koreans: in eight years the resort has been fully equipped.

Its architecture looks very European. If it were not for the inscriptions in Korean, you could forget for a while that you are in another part of the world. It is no coincidence that the name is a combination of the words “Alps” and “Asia.” There are InterContinental and Hilton hotels (they usually accommodate those who come to ski in Yongpyong), a concert hall, a water park, and a casino. As Koreans do not have a habbit of putting all their eggs in one basket, so all the guests of the resort, including those who came without a ski stick in their hands, can be sure they will find something to do and enjoy.

In addition to competitions in ski jumping and big air, Alpensia will host biathlon and cross-country skiing races during the Games.

There is also a center for sliding sports, including luge, bobsleigh and skeleton. The length of the route is symbolic – 2018 meters, in honor of the year when February’s news from South Korea will be most interesting in the world.

Details

Mountain Cluster

Like in Sochi, the sports facilities of the Olympic Winter Games in Korea are located in two clusters – the Pyeongchang Mountain Cluster, and the Gangneung Coastal Cluster. The distance between them is about 30 km. The Olympic athletes will compete in alpine skiing on the pistes of Yongpyong and Jeongseon. Phoenix Snow Park will host snowboard and freestyle skiing events; and Alpensia – ski jumping, biathlon, cross-country skiing and Nordic combined competitions, as well as bobsleigh, luge and skeleton events. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place in Pyeongchang in the newly constructed Olympic Plaza. The Olympic flame will be burning there till the end of the Games.

Coastal Cluster

The Coastal Cluster, located in the city of Gangneung, will host the following competitions: ice hockey, figure skating, curling, short track and speed skating. All of the venues, except the curling center, were built from scratch. These include two ice hockey arenas (the Gangneung center and that of Kwandong University), the indoor speedskating stadium, and the Ice Arena, where the competitions in Korea’s most popular sports will be held – figure skating and short track. Organizers claim that the technology used allows changing the temperature of the ice depending on the competition: providing a softer surface for figure skating and a rougher one for short track.

Not by sport alone

- Woljeongsa Temple. The Buddhist temple founded in the 7th century can be reached by train from Alpensia. It takes part in the Templestay program: if you register in advance, you can be admitted to staying at the temple free of charge. You will have tea-talks with the monks and learn the practice of 108 prostrations, ridding the mind from illusions and filling it with good intentions.

- Ocean 700. Water parks at the ski resorts of Korea are a common thing, and Alpensia is no exception. Ocean 700 is truly huge – its area covers 15,000 square meters. The water park features five swimming pools, water slides, including the 100-meter-high “Camel Back” – children just love them. Ocean 700 is located within a five minutes’ walk from the InterContinental Hotel.

- Hwaam Cave. The largest cave in Korea was discovered during the development of a gold mine. Its main treasures are stalactites and stalagmites, the shape of which seems even more bizarre in the rays of the multi-colored illumination. A railway line connects the cave with the Jeongseon Resort, the journey takes about half an hour.

Теxt: Polina Surnina

Published on: December 28, 2017