PYEONGCHANG: As possibly one of the quirkiest sporting arenas in the world, the Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium in Pyeongchang is a venue that melds together two sports for two different seasons.
In summer, the 11,000-seater stadium is home to K-League football team Gangwon FC.
However, two giant ski ramps – one of which starts off about 140m on top of Alpensia Ski Jumping Tower, and extends all the way down to the pitch – give a hulking clue as to the type of activity the Alpensia ski resort hosts in the deep Korean winter.
When temperatures plummet by February next year, the grass pitch will have made way for thigh-deep snow, where the high-flying ski jumpers will land and decelerate while being watched by thousands of fans sitting in the stadium stands.
That will be the scene come the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, where the dual-use venue will host the Olympic ski jumping competition.
“This venue is a good example of the legacy plan for the Winter Games locations. The ski jumping centre can be used … throughout the seasons,” said Kim Heung-soo, who is the venue’s sports manager.
“The landing ground was also built with an international-size football field and it will be utilised for more soccer games in the summer,” added the two-time ski jumping Olympian. “Also, many tourists come to this venue as well throughout the year, with about 500 to 1,000 visitors arriving during their vacation periods.”
Kim hopes that the venue's unique qualities, in conjunction with the 2018 Winter Olympics, will inspire others to visit Alpensia to take up the sport of ski jumping for fun, despite its risks.
“It takes about eight years of experience to go from the smaller jumps to the biggest slope,” said the 37-year-old. “This is a hard course, especially when there are very heavy winds … It’s also a tower, so it makes jumping more (stressful) than other ski jumping venues.”
INCREASING SPORTING PARTICIPATION
As part of the legacy plans for the Winter Games, the PyeongChang Organising Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games (POCOG) is aiming to get more people to take up winter sports after the event.
“We are working closely with the Korean Olympic Committee who are aiming to achieve 20 Olympic medals on home soil,” said a POCOG spokesperson, responding to queries by Channel NewsAsia. “We hope that they achieve or exceed their target and this will certainly help drive the awareness and expansion of winter sports across the country.
“(We) aim to develop winter sports and related industries in Asia to leave a lasting legacy in the host region by transforming PyeongChang and Gangwon Province into an Asian winter sports hub and a year-round tourist destination,” the spokesperson added.
However, for sporting participation to increase, venues will have to stay intact after the Winter Games. Although no final decisions have been made, it is expected that a number of venues will be preserved for their intended use, such as the Gangneung Hockey Centre, where ice-hockey will be played, as well as the Gangneung Ice Arena, which will be a venue for figure skating and short track speed skating.
“Of course, the (Hockey Centre) isn’t open yet for the public to play at … perhaps it will be, after the Olympic Games,” said Roh Hwan-hee, a POCOG spokesperson who was at the Gangneung ice-hockey arena. “This venue, however, will likely stay on as an ice-hockey rink after the Winter Games and not be converted for other uses.”
“The intent is to make Gangneung a mecca for ice-sports in South Korea. After the Games, most of the indoor facilities will be open to the public, so that people can come and learn, and also try some of these ice-sports … including ice-hockey,” added Roh.
Optimistic that most Winter Games venues will be kept intact, South Korean luge athlete Sung Eur-yung highlighted the importance of doing so to deliver a lasting sporting legacy after the Olympics move on.
“I am very pleased that some of the venues will be preserved,” she said. “This means more people will get to enjoy the respective winter sports even after the Winter Games has finished.
“There are many young talents, who can now train regularly, plus people can then see how fun winter sports can be.”
CAN THERE BE A LEGACY? A LOOK AT OTHER EVENTS AND COUNTRIES
Even as ski tourism numbers rose in Sochi in the years following the 2014 Winter Games, questions remain on whether Russia will be able to break even after investing over US$50 billion in its Winter Olympics campaign.
As for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, sporting participation is the least of the city's worries - facilities have been found to be abandoned and left in disrepair, while the city of Rio struggles to make ends meet.
Issues such as these are problems that PyeongChang 2018 will be keen to avoid. “Our post-Games legacy plan is an important element of the Games for us and it will live on in many ways,” POCOG said.
“A government task force has been set up to focus on venue legacy and related issues, and plans will be finalised by end of the year,” it added.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY? LESSONS FROM SEOUL ‘88
As a country, South Korea is not new to hosting an Olympics, having done so in 1988 at the Seoul Summer Games. Following the Seoul Games, there were more people in South Korea who took up sports, according to Kim Go-woon, who is one of the guides at the Seoul Olympic Museum.
“After the Olympics in '88, more people became interested in sports as a whole,” said Kim, who is the museum’s team manager for Commemorative Affairs. “This was especially so for some sports, which were more popular.
“Among those sports was table tennis, whose popularity led to a unified table tennis team of North and South Korea to take part in the 1994 Asian Games,” she added.
According to Seoul Olympics Museum guide Kim, sporting participation aside, it was the South Korean people as a whole who benefited most from a successful Olympics back then. “I can say that the biggest legacy of ‘88 was that the lives of the citizens improved tremendously,” she said.
“Before the 1988 Summer Games, the world saw South Korea as a poor country. But after the event, the view was changed to be one that is successful,” added Kim. “Overall, the Korean people became more confident and had more pride in themselves for a job well done.”
The country’s sense of unity back then, is a legacy that she hopes will continue for PyeongChang 2018. “In my opinion, people were more unified with one mind and one heart back in 1988,” said Kim.
“They were convinced that with a successful Summer Olympics, they’ll be then seen as advanced and developed as a country.
“The Summer Olympics gave hope to the people, back then,” she added. “So if we can have a renewed heart and mind as before to attain even more success, then I think the 2018 Winter Games will be another successful one."