SEOUL -- Amazing how time really does fly. It will be 25 years this summer that Seoul played host to the 1988 Summer Games. People like to talk about the Barcelona miracle, about how the 1992 Olympics made Barcelona the hot spot tourist destination it is now. And that's true enough. But four years before, those 1988 Games did something profoundly amazing. They made South Korea a modern nation.
Or -- more important -- they made everyone everywhere think South Korea was the modern nation it was becoming, and surely is today.
Here Wednesday, they signed a formal marketing agreement to help fund the first Winter Games to be staged in South Korea -- five years from now, in 2018, in the mountains south of Seoul, in a hamlet called Pyeongchang.
Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, signed the agreement with the head of the Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committee, Jin Sun Kim.
The signing of such an agreement marks the moment, as Rogge noted in his remarks at a downtown hotel, that local organizers "truly take ownership of their promotional and financial destiny."
And -- in this instance -- so much more.
Because for South Korea, these 2018 Games mean so much more.
The agreement itself, which Kim in his remarks called "critical and meaningful," is a common-sense notion. It gives the Pyeongchang 2018 committee exclusive Olympic marketing rights in South Korea until 2020; the committee takes those rights over from the Korean Olympic Committee.
For the KOC, it's a win-win. It gets $10 million a year for the next seven years, up from $6 million or so a year it's generating now in sponsorships.
Pyeongchang 2018 needs the rights to raise revenue to meet its $2.1 billion operating budget.
Wednesday's agreement sets a formidable target, about $1.1 billion. That's traditionally Summer Games-style revenue.
And that ambitious goal was put out there even as the world remains largely mired in an economic downturn not seen in decades.
Rogge, however, said the IOC is "confident" the Koreans have "everything in place" to be "highly successful in [their] endeavors."
For his part, Kim said, "Now let me take this opportunity to encourage the country's leading companies as well as promising small and medium-sized businesses to take part in the historic 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games through its Olympic sponsorship program," adding a moment later that the committee, which goes by the acronym POCOG, is ready for "action."
Later, when speaking to a small group of reporters and asked whether now is indeed a good time to go to market, Kim said of the economic downturn, "Our analysis is that those conditions will get better."
Pyeongchang was elected in 2011 on its third try, coming up just shy for both 2014 and 2010. Kim served as governor of Gangwon province, where Pyeongchang is located, and was intimately involved with those first two bids; he was of course a familiar figure for the winning campaign, too. He has, among other responsibilities over his career, been a special Korean ambassador and a presidential advisor.
This nation recently held elections -- Geun Hye Park will take office Feb. 25, South Korea's first female president -- and Kim is heading up preparations for the inauguration, laughingly calling that -- still speaking through a translator -- a "second job."
This is a man who, for sure, knows how certain things get done, and that is absolutely a compliment.
This is a man who also, over the years, has learned considerably more English than many people might think he knows. Which is a great talent.
In his conversation late Wednesday afternoon with the small group of reporters, the respected British correspondent David Miller started to ask Kim about the impact of those 1988 Games.
Miller, launching into his question -- they had a "huge impact on Korea diplomatically, politically …"
At which point Kim interrupted, speaking in English: "… socially, culturally."
Miller, pausing to note the intriguing cut-in and then resuming: "What do you think will be the contribution of [the Pyeongchang 2018 Games] to the global perception of Korea outside the business of sport, to promote the global awareness of Korea?"
If there was ever someone ready to take that question, here was someone with context, perspective and background.
What these Games are not so much about, Kim made plain, was world peace. He didn't say this, because he is far too practiced and diplomatic, but here's the reality: the Pyeongchang bids that didn't win focused on peace on the Korean peninsula in our time -- and look at the outcome.
He did say at one point Wednesday, "We would like to send the message of peace to the international community … through sports and through the Games," adding, "We will work hard on realizing this vision." At the same time, he noted that right now, referring to the North, "There is no dialogue."
In part, the Games are of course about "new horizons," the winning 2018 tagline, the message of expanding winter sports throughout Asia.
But -- and again, so much more.
This marketing agreement was signed even as South Korea put a satellite into orbit Wednesday for the very first time. Ju Ho Lee, the country's minister for education, science and technology, appearing on a nationally broadcast news conference, and using the country's formal name, said with excitement and pride, "Students and youths! The Republic of Korea is expanding around the world and toward space!"
"As you said," Kim began, looking at Miller, speaking once more in Korean, "because of the 1988 Olympic Games, people around the world -- the international community -- came to know about Korea. The Games had a great impact on our society -- economically, politically and culturally. Altogether, it was a great opportunity to upgrade our nation.
"The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games will be held 30 years after the Seoul Olympic Games. I believe for the nation of Korea that will mean the completion of the Olympic process."
He added a moment later, "Coming in 2018, I believe and I hope that South Korea will enter the [world's] advanced economies. I believe Pyeongchang 2018 will be a symbolic event for Korea to be taken to the next level once again in the manner of the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games."