DURBAN, South Africa -- Nearly 30 years ago, I spent a year backpacking around the world by myself. I idled away nearly six weeks of the trip in India, a lot of that down in the southwestern corner of the country, in Goa, where the ocean lapped up gently on the sandy white beaches and for one American dollar you could buy a beer and a huge grilled fish, and for less than that you could rent a room and you didn't have a care in the whole wide world. It was a huge secret.
Not for long, of course. Now Goa is built up with luxury hotels. The same way Negril Beach in Jamaica got built up. And Koh Samui in Thailand. And all the world's secret spots.
Pyeongchang is next.
In selecting Pyeongchang to play host to the 2018 Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday shouted out to the world the secret that is now a little Korean resort. Over the next seven years, it's going to blossom into a much, much, much bigger resort -- the hub of an Asian winter-sports explosion.
Too bad if you didn't already hold real-estate rights in and around Pyeongchang's Alpensia resort. It works for ski resorts just the way it does for beach gems. To see Alpensia in 2011 -- to tour it as the members of the IOC's evaluation commission did this past February -- is to provide a modern twist on the early days of, say, Whistler Mountain, where the ski events of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games were held.
There are perfectly fine ski lifts in the area. There's an upscale hotel, the Intercontinental, and a Holiday Inn. There's a water park, a superb golf course layout and a concert hall.
And there's a lot yet to be left to the imagination.
Indeed, there's a compelling argument to be made that Pyeongchang benefitted during this 2018 bid cycle in the same way that Chicago got the shaft during the 2016 cycle, and for precisely the same reason -- because the IOC forbids bid-city visits by the IOC members.
If the members had gotten to visit Chicago, they would have seen what a lakefront jewel it is. If they had gone to see Pyeongchang -- or, for that matter, Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Games where everything had to be built from scratch -- how many members would have been willing to take that leap of faith?
The Alpensia complex cost $1.4 billion, constructed over the past 10 years on what used to be potato fields; it was completed in October, 2009. Seven of the 13 sports venues are now built.
Credit for that has to start with Jin Sun Kim, the former governor of Gangwon, the province where Pyeongchang is located, for 2018 a special bid ambassador. Kim led the two prior bids; despite two narrow defeats, he refused to yield. He almost came to tears Wednesday in urging the IOC to vote for Pyeongchang; again, his faith, dedication and steadfastness must be recognized.
This time, the bid was led by Yang Ho Cho, the head of Korean Air. He performed superbly. "We did what we wanted to do," he said simply and elegantly just moments after leading Wednesday's presentation to the IOC.
How well did he lead this bid? The answer is in the landslide of a first-round victory: 63 votes for Pyeongchang, 25 for Munich, seven for Annecy. The argument can be made that over the past two decades no city has won an IOC election so compellingly or convincingly.
A key issue for this 2018 bid was whether multiple -- and potentially competing constituencies -- in Korea could be kept not just in check but in sufficient harmony, everyone pulling toward the common goal. Korea may be, as the saying goes, the land of morning calm; the joke in bid circles was that it was the land of evening meetings.
In addition to the presidency and other layers of government, there was -- in no particular order -- Samsung, along with other powerful business interests and, of course, the Korean Olympic Committee.
The 2010 IOC vote was held in 2003, in Prague; Samsung flags and banners were all over central Prague, raising questions about whether the Korean business heavyweight -- and leading IOC sponsor -- had exerted undue influence. This time, Samsung's presence around and about Durban was extraordinarily muted.
Two rock stars stood front and center for the 2018 Pyeongchang team.
One the world knows well: 2010 figure skating champion Yuna Kim. She was brought onto the team late in the game, making her first appearance on stage in May in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's base, before most of the members, at the so-called technical briefing. Nervous, she made a couple mistakes in her lines. The members ate it up, finding it endearing; after all, she is still just 20 years old.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, she was smooth and polished, declaring she was a "living legacy" of her nation's investment in sports.
The other star: Theresa Rah, the articulate and poised director of communication. A former television personality, she spoke Wednesday from the stage in both English and French. Over the two-year course of the bid run, she proved -- time and again -- a remarkable talent with a gift for directing traffic on and off camera.
Behind the scenes, any number of hands played key roles. But enormous credit has to go to Terrence Burns, the first-rate bid consultant from Helios Partners in Atlanta. He dreamed up the tagline "New Horizons," which captured the essence of the historical moment the IOC vote on Wednesday delivered. He wrote every word of all their presentations, including the one here. He trained the presenters, including the president of Korea, to deliver lines with verve. In English.
For Burns -- it marked his fourth Olympic win.
Mike Lee, the British consultant, continued an Olympic winning streak, too: London 2012, Rio 2016, rugby as an Olympic sport and now Pyeongchang.
By 2030, according to an Asian Development Bank Study, Asia will make up 43 percent of worldwide consumption. From 1990 to 2008, the middle class in Asia grew by 30 percent, and spent an average of an additional $1.7 trillion annually. No other region in the world came close, as the Koreans emphasized time and again these past several months.
When you combine that with the 90 percent approval rating the 2018 project garnered in opinion polling in Korea -- an absurdly high result in any poll -- the IOC had to take notice.
If it's not clear why the Koreans came up just short in 2010, it's manifestly evident why they came up shy for 2014 -- Vladimir Putin. He is among the most important figures in our time -- not just in global politics but, as well, in international sport.
This time around, there was no Putin with which to contend.
Plus, Rome wants to bid for 2020. Madrid, too. And the Swiss are exploring a 2022 bid. Translation: incentive for others in Europe to keep 2018 out of the Alps.
It all broke Korea's way.
Despite the usual professions for public consumption about how this was a close race -- behind the scenes, it had been clear for a long time that this was the way it was going down. Even the other bids knew it.
The members said so, too, just not for publication. In prior years, some European members acknowledged they were almost embarrassed to admit they might be supporting Pyeongchang. This time, several let it be known openly that they were with the Koreans and that was that.
The presentation Wednesday proved the icing on the cake. The Korean president, Myung Bak Lee, promised full support. The head of the Korean Olympic Committee, Y.S. Park, told a hilarious joke, apologizing to that noted newlywed and IOC member, Prince Albert, for making his serene highness sit through a Pyeongchang bid presentation for a third time. It broke up the room.
The prince said later, "It was even better the third time. Don't worry."
When the world shows up in Pyeongchang in February 2018, the area will for sure look very different than it does now. They're going to spend another $6.4 billion between now and then, $3.4 billion of that on a high-speed rail link between Pyeongchang and Seoul, to be completed in 2017.
It's why former Governor Kim welled up with emotion on stage Wednesday -- the notion that Pyeongchang, this little jewel, is for sure going to be a secret no more.
He said, "It has been 17 years since Pyeongchang first had the dream about the Olympics. We decided to realize the dream 12 years ago. We failed two times in the bidding. Now we are here for the third time. We have walked a thorny path to get here to this day.
"As I was explaining the whole thing to the IOC members, I did not even know I had tears in my eyes. I was filled with emotion. That's what I had been feeling -- not just me, but all of us."