Pyeongchang 2018

Korea for Winter 2018: emphatically on track


PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Think Olympics, and with the Rio 2016 Summer Games coming up in just six months, the headlines are dominated by story after story of bad water, ill government, sick finances and, now, the Zika virus. Just 18 months after the show closes in Rio, the Olympic spotlight will turn with all its intensity to the 2018 Winter Games, here in South Korea. So now for some glad Olympic tidings, the evidence manifest this weekend in the first 2018 test event, a men’s World Cup alpine downhill: Korea is emphatically on track.

Before most every World Cup race, the U.S. Ski Team sends to reporters a sort-of inside-baseball guide to what’s what -- notes, facts, figures, impressions. Here is a snippet from Saturday, before the downhill: “They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” adding, “Based on athlete praise this week, it looks like Pyeongchang crushed it with flying colors.”

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud on his way to winning Saturday's downhill // Getty Images

American Steven Nyman took third // photo Getty Images

The Jeongseon downhill podium. From left, Paris, Jansrud, Nyman // Getty Images

Big picture, the 2018 Games are on target to become one of perhaps the most memorable ever, situated in a hamlet where, because of simple geography, there’s going to be a Lillehammer-like village setting — assuming the Koreans can, as they have promised, bring the village to life. Too, because Pyeongchang itself is a ski venue and the skating and other ice venues are down by the coast in Gangneung, maybe a half-hour away, the 2018 vibe is going to be heavy on ski and snowboard — the very disciplines the International Olympic Committee has sought to use to reach out to a younger audience.

To that end, the IOC has approved for 2018 a snowboard event called "big air" that features, naturally enough, huge jumps.

The Jeongseon alpine racing course on Gariwang Mountain, designed by famed designer Bernhard Russi, the 1972 Sapporo Games downhill champion, and set by Hannes Trinkl, the 1998 Nagano Games downhill bronze medalist, runs to about 1.7 miles, with blind jumps and four pucker-inducing, great-for-TV jumps.

For comparison: the downhill track takes about 25 seconds less to get down than the 2:06.23 it took for Austria’s Mattias Meyer to win in Sochi in 2014. Because it's shorter, it places a huge premium on precision and control.

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud, who had been crushing it all season and all week in training, went 1:41.38 to win Saturday's race, his third victory of the season. Italy's Dominik Paris surged to second, two-tenths of a second back, in 1:41.58. American Steven Nyman, also strong in training, placed third, in 1:41.79, 41-hundredths behind. For Paris and Nyman, the race marked their first podium turns of the season.

An aerial view of the Jeongseon runs. "Blue Dragon," the competition course, is to the left, the training run "White Tiger" to the right // photo POCOG

Another aerial shot of the Jeongseon set-up // photo POCOG

Looking out from the start gate over the "Blue Dragon"

Sunday will see a World Cup super-G. The women's World Cup tour comes to Jeongseon in March 2017. In all, Pyeongchang will stage 28 test events over the next two years.

For a long time, it was hugely doubtful that the Koreans could have done what they did this weekend. Pyeongchang won the 2018 Games in 2011; the first three years went by with not enough getting done.

Then, though, Yang Ho Cho, the Korean Air chief who led the winning bid, was brought back — at the urgings of the highest levels of South Korean government — to run the Pyeongchang organizing committee, which goes by the acronym POCOG.


All major construction projects are on time, including a high-speed Seoul-Pyeongchang rail line and the athlete and media villages. Sponsorship: picking up. Right on schedule, the organizing committee is moving away from planning and toward operations.

Pyeongchang 2018 leader Yang Ho Cho on a midweek Jeongseon snowmobile tour

Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, the International Olympic Committee 2018 Games coordination commission chair, said Saturday at a post-race briefing, "Today, for example, would not have been possible without the commitment of Korea to keep its promise to the athletes and to the Olympic movement."

There’s a long way to go, of course, before 2018, and any number of things can and probably will happen. After all, running an Olympic Games is nothing if not an exercise in crisis management.

Because this was a test event — the entire purpose of which is to find out what works, and what doesn’t, and get right what’s wrong — there inevitably were some rough edges over the weekend. Transport, parking, venue access — they all need to be reviewed.

No easy task for anyone, much less an elderly woman, getting up the hill before Saturday's downhill

Because it’s the Olympics, questions of legacy — what to do with this run after 2018, say — are bound over the coming months to gain in urgency. It doesn’t take much to figure out that, after the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the international ski federation, FIS, can put together an Asian circuit, with races in China, Japan and Korea. Typically, though, ski runs are part of mammoth resorts. This is — a ski run. There are no glowing fireplace embers in the lodge because there isn’t a lodge. Or much else.

The view from the sky of the ski jump near Alpensia, the center of the 2018 Games // photo POCOG

That said, the very fact that the races went off, as scheduled long ago, is the most important take-away from the weekend. It makes for a huge momentum blast for 2018.

Before this weekend, the Olympic world was asked to believe, without evidence, that the Koreans could put on not just a world-class winter event but, with the downhill, one of the marquee events of the Games. Now that evidence is indisputable.

"It was a hard work," said Sarah Lewis, the British secretary general of FIS, the international ski federation. "And it was a great work."

If it was an organizational and logistics race to the finish, that is all the more evidence, too, of first-rate leadership and with it the building and sustaining of a winning culture — one where everyone buys in because the boss is right there with them, demanding excellence of himself and everyone around him.

“It’s not about me,” Cho said in an interview. “It’s about the team.”

For sure, and yet it is in some significant measure about him, because over his career he has proven an extraordinary change agent, the business leader who can bring teams to hew to his vision, who can command respect in political and financial circles, who moves easily in eastern culture and, as well, in the west.

The weekend in Korea saw the first-ever meeting of the Beijing 2022, Tokyo 2020 and Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committees. From left: Da Xu, deputy secretary general, Beijing 2022; Gunilla Lindberg, IOC 2018 coordination commission chair; Cho; Yukihiko Nunomura, chief operating officer, Tokyo 2020 // photo POCOG

From the first day he came back to the Olympic scene, in the summer of 2014, Cho understood the symbolic import of bringing this first test event in on time.

It was pretty elemental: Korea had been trusted with the Games. Now, could Korea deliver?

Cho has for many years been one of the world’s leading experts in enterprise culture, that thing that is exceedingly difficult to define and to make real but is so very real, indeed infectiously obvious, when it comes to life.

— As is detailed in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-seller “Outliers,” Cho effected a huge cultural change at Korean Air after the 1997 crash in Guam of Korean Air 801, which killed 228 passengers and crew. Afterward, junior pilots were encourage to speak up to senior officers; before, even in the face of potential disaster, that same junior pilot might well have simply shown deference. Too, all pilots had to become proficient in English, the language of international aviation.

Korean Air’s safety record since has been impeccable.

— Pyeongchang bid for the 2010 and 2014 Games, losing both. Those bids were headed by the provincial Gangwon governor, Jin Sun Kim. Cho led the 2018 bid. It not only won but by one of the biggest landslides in Olympic voting history, Pyeongchang getting 63 votes, Munich 25 and Annecy, France, just seven. Those 63 votes marked the highest-ever total for a first-round bid; Salt Lake City had gotten 54 for the 2002 Winter Games.

— Kim, a former provincial Gangwon governor, took over as organizing committee chairman. In July 2014, he unexpectedly resigned, saying new leadership was needed. The South Korean government turned to Cho, who initially turned down the job but then relented, saying it was a matter of duty, conscience and public service. His Olympic work -- which now takes up most of his days -- is without salary.

It took a little time for Cho to figure out who in POCOG was a worker and who, well, not. One of Cho’s first directives, considering that more than half the organization came from government: if you are working for a ministry and you don’t want to stay until 2018, the moment to leave is now. This way he had people who were in, and for the long haul.

It took time for Cho to convince the IOC that he — not the background noise drip-dripping from government — was really in charge.

In March, 2015, South Korean President Geun Hye Park’s chief of education and culture got with Lindberg, the IOC 2018 commission chair. The two-pronged message: the central government was fully supportive of the Games and Cho was indisputably in control.

Time, too, to get the various interests in POCOG — there are over 60 constituencies, including the private sector plus federal and Gangwon provincial government ministries — to learn to talk across the separate silos they had over the first three years constructed.

Then there was the weather. Korea normally goes through a rainy season. But summer 2015 brought a lot of rain. That meant a lot of mud on the mountains. That meant construction delays.

By last December, it was entirely unclear whether the gondola up Gariwang could be done in time to meet the required FIS Jan. 20 check-off, officially called “snow control day.”

Without the gondola, there was no point in seeing whether the other check-off due that day — snow volume and quality — could be met.

The gondola in operation over weekday test runs at Jeongseon // photo courtesy Doppelmayr

Thus the back story to this weekend.

The gondola, and how it got done, would prove hugely emblematic.

Cho had to be in Europe the first week of December for meetings, one of which revolved around his role in international aviation.

By then, POCOG had been told by officials of the gondola maker, a company called Doppelmayr, that the Jeongseon project was unsafe. No way it would be ready by Jan. 20. But that assertion didn’t elaborate.

On Dec. 6, a Sunday, Cho met in the lounge of a private aviation terminal near Vienna with Michael Doppelmayr, the company’s chief executive officer.

Doppelmayr told Cho that the firm’s No. 1 priority was safety. He said it had had 130 ongoing projects around the world.

For his part, Cho said, I have 150 aircraft that fly to more than 100 cities around the world, and Korean Air has the lowest insurance rates in the business.

That did it. At that instant, the two men recognized they were equals — sophisticated international businessmen.

The issue, as it would turn out, was that some of the pillars in the middle station planted on the Jeongseon run were misaligned. Without that alignment, the gondola wires and, obviously, any cable cars wouldn’t work right.

Cho told Doppelmayr the project had to get done.

For his part, Doppelmayr promptly sent a team of senior engineers to Korea. It was one thing to look at photos. It was quite another to be there, on scene.

After that, things swung into action. Crews worked 20-hour days, seven days a week. Christmas and New Year’s holidays? Not a chance. Work.

Meantime, on Dec. 24, Cho attended a POCOG executive board meeting. Hoarse, he could barely scratch out a few introductory remarks.

The important thing was that he was there. If everyone on the hill was working around the clock, he — despite the fact that he actually went to the hospital later that evening, where he was treated with antibiotics and released — was keeping a killer schedule, too. He wasn’t asking anyone to do what he wouldn’t do himself.

It got noticed.

On Christmas, everyone working on the hill enjoyed a traditional Korean barbecue. Cho paid for it himself — that is, himself, not from organizing committee funds.

Intriguingly, the weather in Korea — like in a lot of places now — had been unusually warm. The week before Christmas, as if by some magical confluence of karma, it turned cold, exactly when the Koreans needed it. Now they could make, and store, snow.

The week before the Jan. 20 deadline, the Koreans had made enough snow.

They kept going. By race day Saturday, they had 120 percent of the snow amounts the course requires.

Come deadline day, it was all good. The snow. The gondola, working, got certified.

Then came the raves.

And, come Saturday, the downhill. And more raves.

At that post-race news conference, Lindberg gave the event a score of 100 out of 100, bringing gasps and applause from Korean journalists. In a visit in December, she explained, IOC and other officials assuredly had "some doubts this event would take place." Even so, she said, "We trusted President Cho's promise," adding, "He made the impossible possible."

Echoed Gian Franco Kasper, the FIS president, "President Cho made us a promise and he really kept it," adding, "You have seen it today. We have an excellent downhill course here, according to the athletes and the coaches ... it's a beauty."

Jansrud, calling the mountain "fun," said, "This is more than an acceptable Olympic venue to ski on." Paris: "We can ski and we can have a lot of fun here." Nyman: A "joy to ski."

The FIS technical expert, Günter Hujara, had said earlier in the week, “Nobody believed we could do it but we did it.”

Or, as Cho said in a briefing Friday with a few reporters, “We had promised to deliver, and we delivered. Korea can deliver.”

Big decision but not difficult -- kill Boston 2024


The U.S. Olympic Committee has a big decision on its hands at the end of the month: whether to kill off the Boston 2024 bid.

Big, yes. But not difficult. It’s obvious, made more so by an informal survey of key International Olympic Committee members a few days ago in Lausanne, Switzerland, who could not have made it more plain: do the right thing, they said in straightforward, indeed blunt, language, and put this Boston 2024 bid out of its, and everyone’s, misery.

Time is of the essence.

“Move,” said one senior IOC member, often a confidante of IOC president Thomas Bach’s, speaking — like the other members quoted here — on condition of anonymity. This member added, referring to the Boston bid team, “They had their opportunity. They fucked it around.”

“Los Angeles is better than Boston,” said another senior member. “The USA has to change its image.”

Said another, making an imaginary trigger with index finger and thumb, “The sooner the better. It has to be now.”

The seven dozen or so members of the IOC in attendance at the 2022 Winter Games briefing last week in Lausanne // photo IOC

Get the picture?

Here is the deal, again as candidly as possible.

There is one reason, and one reason only, for the United States to enter the 2024 bid race: to win.

It’s a $75 million gamble, maybe more, in this kind of race. For that kind of money, which in the United States means private investment, that can yield only one satisfactory result:


That, after the October 2009 first-round exit that Chicago 2016 suffered, even with President Obama himself lobbying in person at the IOC session in Copenhagen for his hometown, is what the USOC took to heart.

That is why the USOC did not run for 2020.

All conversations now about how an Olympic bid process can be a great learning process, maybe even a swell stimulus, can be lovely exercises for urban-planning seminars.

But winning is way, way, way better.

Ask London. Or Paris. Which of the two has been on the upswing since that 2005 vote for 2012?

Or New York. Do you really think New York would have preferred to have lost, or won, that 2012 race?

The peril and promise of an American bid

Last week, the IOC’s policy-making executive board met in Lausanne. After a few days, they were joined by almost all the IOC members for briefings related to the  2022 Winter Games race.

The only thing predictable about an IOC election is its unpredictability. That said, there is clearly a feeling within the most influential IOC circles that the time could be right for the Americans.

This despite the FIFA indictments brought by the U.S. Department of Justice — which, truth be told, have caused U.S. interests and in particular the USOC real damage in sports politics, the measure of which remains to be calculated.

The challenges any American bid faces ought not to be understated. One member, reflecting on the imminent signing of a Texas law allowing the open carrying of handguns in public and of concealed handguns on state university campuses — the governor would sign it last weekend — said that measure alone ought to spell the end of the Boston bid. Or, for that matter, Los Angeles, if it came to that.

Who, the member asked, could reliably trust the safety of one’s university-age children in a country with such a law?

For Americans, who understand the differences, geographical and cultural, between Texas and the two coasts, such a rhetorical question might seem — unusual. This, though, is the way it is.

For all that, it is the case that Larry Probst, who is the USOC chairman, and Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive, have spent since January 2010 repairing relationships and building international goodwill, in particular among the IOC’s — to use a phrase — thought leaders.

Within the IOC, a good many people have taken notice.

What they can’t now understand is why Probst and Blackmun didn’t do in January, when the USOC seemingly made its 2024 choice, what is expected in Olympic circles — tell the USOC board that Los Angeles was the right choice, and get on with it.

Democracy can be a good thing. But not necessarily in a board setting — at least an Olympic-style board.

In this instance, as was related time and again in Lausanne, Probst and Blackmun should have done what Bach does in the IOC: just do it. The IOC works better when the president is in charge. Same, it was related, for the USOC.

Without a doubt, Probst and Blackmun know full well what will win in Lausanne — or at least have a chance. It’s LA — for 2024 and, if it doesn’t work out, 2028.

One of the fundamental mistakes the U.S. makes is not running the same city, if it loses, again. The IOC likes it when they see cities keep trying — Pyeongchang, South Korea, bid twice before winning a third time for 2018.

It’s time now, it was said in Lausanne, for Probst and Blackmun to tell the USOC board what’s what  — to right the mistake that was made in January and, again, get on with it.

The idea of not bidding for 2024 is, of course, one option. But it’s a very poor option. Reading the tea leaves in Lausanne, it’s clear that not bidding for 2024 will — like the Chicago 2016 defeat — set the Americans back three to five to as many as 10 years in IOC circles.

Will the USOC likely encounter a dash of unfavorable publicity if it kills off Boston?

For sure.

For about a week. And that will be that.

Will Los Angeles be relegated for the next two years to a status as “second choice”?

Maybe. But probably not.


You know what they know how to do in Los Angeles?

Tell stories. In film and in our increasingly digital world.

You know what wins Olympic bids?

Story-telling. And humility. Which the USOC, the embodiment of the American medal machine, could use a dose of — if it manages this turn-around the right way, which actually could and should be super-easy.

Just come right out and say, we made a mistake.

For the sake of clarity:

San Francisco and Washington, the other two 2024 finalists, offered some upsides. But neither, to stress, emerged as a plausible IOC candidate. San Francisco, for all its beauty, can hardly get artificial turf put down in a local park; imagine trying to prepare for, and put on, 28 simultaneous world championships, which is what a Summer Games involves. DC, to many overseas, represents the seat of American imperialism; meanwhile, the very last thing the USOC needs is the oversight of 535 self-appointed mayors, meaning the various members of Congress, casting an eye on seven years of preparations.

So it was Boston or Los Angeles.

If you haven’t been to Los Angeles recently, if you’re stuck on a vision of LA as 1984 or 1992, and can only see it as traffic and been-there, you really need to think again.

This from, of all sources, the New York Times, just last month:

Los Angeles is an incredible city and is in the center of a creative explosion right now,” Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and chief executive, wrote [to the newspaper] in an email. “There is an amazing and inspiring mix of people from the worlds of film, technology, music, architecture, food and culture and now fashion, all doing such interesting things there.”

Boston has more than had its chance

The primary problem with Boston is not that the USOC didn’t do its due diligence. It’s that the USOC board chose to dismiss or ignore that diligence, and in particular the low approval numbers in the polls.

Now the figure stands at 39 percent. That is, in a word, abysmal.

The IOC wants 70 percent.

In LA, the poll numbers were in the high 70s.

When the poll number was 67 percent in Chicago, there was something approaching panic.

Now it’s 39 percent in Boston, and they seriously want to talk about keeping this thing going?

Be real.


Enough, already, with comments such as these from current Boston 2024 spokesman Doug Rubin, who told the New York Times this week, with the committee rolling out new venue plans, “Give us a chance to make the case.”


Boston has had, at the least, a full year to make its case. It was named one of the four USOC finalists in June 2014. Last Dec. 16, those four cities made presentations behind closed doors to the USOC. On Jan. 8, the board picked Boston.

Boston has had ample opportunity to make its case. To say now that it should get more time is, as this space has written before, not fair and not right to the other cities in the domestic campaign, and in particular to the other three finalists.

It’s particularly embarrassing, if not egregious, for Boston 2024 to have sold the USOC on one “concept” and then, six months later, be trotting out a whole new “plan.”

The first “idea” was a walkable, transit-oriented notion in which the city of Boston would be an “Olympic Park.”

This week came word that shooting, originally planned for Boston Harbor, will be 25 miles away, in Billerica. Beach volleyball was originally pitched as Boston’s equivalent of London’s Horse Garden Parade, an iconic, centrally located venue with history; on Wednesday, it was moved to a field in Quincy, just south of Boston. Sailing, it was announced earlier this month, would be moved from Boston Harbor to New Bedford, near Cape Cod.

Attention, Hertz!

The newly proposed site for beach volleyball in Quincy, Massachusetts // Boston 2024

We are all still waiting on word from Holyoke, in western Massachusetts, and the proposal from the mayor there to move snatch up volleyball.

What’s next? Is basketball going to go to from TD Garden, the home of the Boston Celtics, to Springfield, Massachusetts, two hours away, because it’s the birthplace of the game and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?

All this is a ploy clearly designed to try to win votes for a November 2016 statewide referendum.

As if.

Do you call all these changes "interesting" or do words such as “fraud” start exploding in your head?

The original “concept” made such a big deal, meanwhile, out of involving so many colleges and universities in and around town.

Tennis had originally been planned for Harvard. Now it would be at a facility in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, with the university apparently distancing itself from the bid.

This from Associated Press, regarding the tennis venue: “They had initially been proposed for Harvard University in nearby Cambridge, Mass. but the Ivy League university, which had once been a prominent component of the city's bid, has been distancing itself from the efforts in recent days.”

When a big dog like Harvard starts laying down, what about others? You seriously expect to run an Olympics without the out-front support of a leading institution such as Harvard?

Again, be real.

Enough, already, with the leadership shuffles at Boston 2024. From all accounts, new bid leader Steve Pagliuca is a decent guy. But starting from scratch — with him a few weeks prior, at a separate meeting in Switzerland, making the rounds of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and not knowing whether for voting purposes the museum officials are important or not — is not the way to win.

Enough with the Massachusetts Rocky Horror political picture show. Here, alone, is a stand-alone reason to kill Boston 2024:

Boston 2024 may be angling to make this more of a Commonwealth of Massachusetts deal -- maybe even beyond -- but contractually the IOC deals formally with a single entity, and that entity is a city. If Boston Mayor Marty Walsh isn’t willing to sign the host-city contract, that in and of itself is enough to kill the deal. Right now. Done.

Enough, too, with the contrast between the Olympic values — friendship, excellence and respect — and a man later identified as the mayor’s cousin, at one of the various community meetings this spring, calling a woman expressing opposition to Boston 2024 a “fucking piece of shit.”

Enough as well with Pollyanna-ish op-ed pieces like the one posted Wednesday on Huffington Post from Angela Ruggiero, the IOC (athlete commission) member who is also a USOC board member. It was outdated even as it went up, touting the athlete experience — the city as Olympic Park — when that very same day the beach volleyball-to-Quincy announcement was being made, following the shooting-to-Billerica and sailing-to-New Bedford switch-outs, with more almost certain to follow.

Come on.

Ruggiero, who like Probst was in Lausanne last week, surely has to know better. She has to know the prevailing mood among their fellow IOC members. If she doesn’t, she’s not talking to the right people — or, as someone who, as she acknowledged in her HuffPost piece, got her undergraduate and M.B.A. degrees in Boston, has a serious conflict of interest and ought to recuse herself from any June 30 vote.

Time is of the essence.

“Better faster than later,” an IOC member who is the president of one of the most important international federations said in Lausanne. “It’s an uphill battle.”

“If it’s inevitable,” said another IOC member, “it’s obvious it needs to be pulled immediately."

Hey, IOC, let's go surfing -- now


Hard to believe but snowboarding, which is basically now the it-sport of the Winter Games, has been on the program only since 1998. It has really been a big deal only since 2002, when halfpipe took off. The International Olympic Committee has had one undisputed big winner in recent years at the Summer Games: beach volleyball. BMX? Kinda. The real ticket is at the beach, with the hard bodies in their bikinis or board shorts and the California-cool, surfer-dude lifestyle.

This is the farthest thing from rocket science. With the IOC in the midst of a potentially far-reaching review and reform program — all the members meeting in Monaco in December to debate President Thomas Bach’s so-called “Agenda 2020” program — the time is right to figure out how, or better yet how now, to get the sport that’s at the core of it all into the Games: surfing.

Parade of nations at the 2013 ISA juniors opening ceremony // photo courtesy ISA

Again, this is super-obvious.

There’s nothing like surfing on the program. (Windsurfing is totally different. It’s a sailing sport.) And if you think beach volleyball is a hot ticket, the sort of thing that has proven its appeal to the very demographic the IOC is trying to reach — hello, surfing?

Think again what snowboarding has done for the Winter Games. Now imagine what surfing could do for the stagnant Summer Games.

You think, just as a for instance, the IOC would be delighted to count on super big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton as an ambassador?

In considering surfing for the Games, what’s different from prior years is the advent of artificial wave technologies. That makes the sport far more accessible and controllable — and thus do-able in an Olympic context. Translation: surfing no longer has to rely -- indeed, should not have to count on -- having a nearby ocean.

Big, big, big picture: surfing right now is practiced by about 35 million people worldwide, according to estimates. Artificial wave technology is likely going to explode the sport’s potential, bringing it to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people everywhere on Planet Earth, people not lucky or wealthy enough to live by the sea. The IOC is often at the forefront of showcasing precisely this sort of growth (see Summer Games Rio 2016 — first time in South America, Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, first Winter Olympics in South Korea).

Currently, the International Surfing Assn. counts 89 member nations. For 2015, it plans to rocket past 100; 20 more nations are in the pipeline.

As this space has pointed out before, it’s skateboarding’s time in the Games, too. For many if not all the same reasons.

The thing that makes surfing such a remarkably easy sell is the guy at the top — Fernando Aguerre, 56, the ISA president, who is up for re-election next week at the federation’s meetings in Peru.

ISA president Fernando Aguerre

Aguerre, born and raised in Mar del Plata, Argentina, has lived in the seaside San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla for roughly 30 years. The story is perhaps well known about how he and his brother, Santiago, started Reef Sandals from scratch; they sold the company in 2005.

What is not as well known, maybe, is that Aguerre starts every day by surfing. Still. Typically, at 8:05 in the morning — his favorite spot is a break known locally as Windansea.

Name another international federation president who does that.

Aguerre and Nenad Lalovic, the president of the international wrestling federation, which now goes by the name United World Wrestling, are examples of the new faces — with first-rate passion, energy and ideas — who have arrived, and can be expected to be important for years, within the Olympic scene.

So, too, Marius Vizer, the International Judo Federation and SportAccord president.

Last year, when Aguerre was given the “Waterman” award — the surf industry’s highest honor — Bob McKnight, the executive chairman of the surfwear maker Quiksilver, referring to the way Aguerre views each day, said, “He’s always in attack mode,” adding, “He understands the business, understands the people, the culture, what we do, where it’s at, why we do it.

“I think he just looks at himself in the mirror every morning and asks, ‘Who am I? I’m Fernando, and I’m the man. I go attack!’ That’s how he has always been.”

Added pro big-wave surfer Greg Long, “I tell you one thing: Fernando loves to have a good time. That’s one of the first things I remember about him — his contagious energy and excitement. There’s the whole business side to him. Everybody knows that. They’ve seen that. They have seen what he has created — time and again in this industry. But, more importantly, the guy loves life.”

The IOC members see a lot of BS, a lot of false smiles. In Aguerre — who walked into his first Olympic meeting in 2007, not knowing a soul — they have seen authenticity.

With his brother, he started a company from scratch. They made it, and made it big. But — always — there is for Fernando Aguerre the memory of his grandmother in Argentina, who worked as a maid, and his grandfather, a taxi driver.

When Fernando was 15, his grandmother gave him a parka, which had to have cost her a big piece of that month's paycheck.

“She said,” he recalls, “you are too young to understand -- but giving is better than receiving. If you give a lot, you have a chance to be a better person.”

Later, when she was getting on in years, he said to her, what kind of flowers do you want for your funeral?

She said, “I want the flowers now because when I am dead I won’t be able to smell them,” and he says, “Appreciate what you have now. If you take that to the relationships with people then you have a richer relationship with the people in your life.”

Surfing — if you have ever done it — is huge fun. The only thing like it, of course, is snowboarding.

For Aguerre, however, it’s also about one-to-one change, and the way that change ripples out throughout our world.

There are the ISA scholarships aimed at helping kids in places such as Namibia and India.

There are stories like the one of Bali’s only 20-year-old female pro surfer — who says she is inspiring other girls to take up surfing.

Of a woman paralyzed in a car crash 18 years ago who had always dreamed of surfing — and went, duct-taped to the back of a big-wave rider.

Sands of the world -- a key feature of an ISA opening ceremony // photo courtesy ISA

There are the conversations Aguerre has had with presidents, prime ministers, tourist ministers and other leaders — in Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, among other places. In Costa Rica, the official numbers last year showed 2.4 million visitors, of whom 10 percent were surfers, or 240,000. Their average expenditure: $1440. The math: $345 million.

“For Costa Rica, that’s not small change,” Aguerre said.

“For me,” he said, “I feel like my role as an international federation president is not just to develop the sport or run high-quality world championships — to be sure there is fair play and no doping, all the things a president must do.

“It’s also to educate leaders about the powerful relevance of surfing as a social and economic force. That is probably what catches most people by surprise.”

Really, it’s time. Surfing in the Games. As soon as possible.


Rogge's final months -- and what's next

SEOUL -- Jacques Rogge has been president of the International Olympic Committee for nearly 12 years. He has held hundreds, if not thousands, of news conferences and briefings. He presided over another one Friday at a downtown hotel as the rain came down hard and cold here in Seoul, reporters and camera crews shaking off the water like poodles after a walk, and then came the usual breathless questioning from some of the local reporters met by the president's calm and measured responses, a scene from a real-life movie that has played out before many, many times.

It was odd in its way to think that this set piece will soon be coming to an end. But these are indeed the final months of Rogge's presidency; he steps down at the IOC session in Argentina in September. There the IOC will choose his successor.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge at Friday's Seoul news conference // photo courtesy Korea Herald

And while there wasn't any breaking news Friday -- there typically isn't at a standard-issue IOC press conference, only clues to what's really going on -- what was plainly and powerfully evident is that this year, 2013, holds the potential to re-shape the Olympic movement in far-reaching ways.

At issue are fundamental philosophies about where the IOC has been, is now and is going amid three decisive reckonings: what sports will be included at the Summer Games, what city will play host to the Games in 2020 and who will be the next president.

Given the way the IOC presidency works -- an eight-year term followed by another, shorter term of four more years -- the vote for Rogge's successor is essentially a once-in-a-generation event. Already in 2013, it frames the backdrop to most everything of significance happening in Olympic circles, even if subtly.

In two weeks, the IOC executive board, meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, will review the 26 sports that appeared on the London 2012 program, charged with cutting one to get to a "core" of 25.

Then -- as the year goes on, and even trying to describe the process is complicated -- it's possible the IOC will add sports. Or not.

Baseball and softball, for instance, which are trying to get back in as one entity, not two, will learn whether the basics of interpersonal dynamics ultimately will prove more potent than the merits of either sport.

Everyone knows it can sometimes be incredibly hard to admit you made a mistake, if indeed you did. Would an IOC that under Rogge's watch kicked both out be tempted now to double back and say, oh, we get it -- now we are going to let them back in?

As the February executive board meeting approaches, meanwhile, rumors have been increasingly fevered about which of the 26 sports might be the one left out.

Track and field, swimming and sailing -- Rogge competed in the Games as a sailor -- would seem to have nothing to worry about.

That said, modern pentathlon has been fighting to keep its place for years. It sparked a huge debate that consumed the IOC session in Mexico City in 2002. Now? The sport has undertaken a series of initiatives to make it easier to follow. Yet any realist can see that while the IOC is trying to reach out to a younger audience, and there are taekwondo gyms on seemingly every other block with little kids running around in their colored belts, a modern pentathlon enthusiast with a gun, a sword, a horse, a swimsuit and a pair of running shoes would be hard-pressed indeed to find a place to practice all its pieces.

Meanwhile, in September, the IOC will choose Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo to be its 2020 Summer Games site. The process ramps up next month with visits by an evaluation commission to all three.

Which leads, in a circular way perhaps but inevitably, to the presidential campaign.

When Rogge took office, in July 2001, the IOC was still feeling its way after the Salt Lake City corruption scandal. The key element in a 50-point reform plan, passed in December 1999, bans the roughly 100 members from visiting cities bidding for the Games.

Rogge has been a vocal proponent for that rule. It seems to have prevented a recurrence of what happened in Salt Lake -- where bidders showered the members with inducements -- from happening elsewhere.

On the other hand, there's also the argument that rule fundamentally says to the members, many of whom are important personalities in their own countries: we don't trust you.

The way the process works now is that the evaluation commission undertakes four-day visits to each city and then produces a report. The full IOC meets a few months before the vote to go over the report and hear from the bid cities. Then they get together again a few months later, for the vote itself. The members vote after having the report available to read (which some don't), watching videos (maybe, if they're interesting) and taking in the presentations from the bid cities.

This for a process that costs hundreds of millions of dollars and is worth billions to the winning city and nation.

With great power comes great responsibility, goes the saying. Certainly the IOC wields enormous power. But does the bid city process -- as it is now -- assign to the members meaningful responsibility?

Thomas Bach of Germany is widely considered the leading presidential candidate. Ser Miang Ng of Singapore might well prove a strong challenger. And Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico has shown business skills to help keep the IOC strong in the global economic downturn.

The smart candidate, if he were to be moving around the world, meeting with other IOC members, listening to their observations, would surely hear some number of them say perhaps the time has come to look anew at the way things work. A lot of time has passed. No one is going back to Salt Lake City anytime soon.

Pyeongchang was selected the 2018 Winter Games host in 2011. Intriguingly, Rogge saw the place with his own eyes for the very first time this week. Simply put, there is no substitute for seeing something yourself.

Rogge said of Pyeongchang, "I had of course seen it in the bid book," adding, "When you see it in reality, you have another view. It is state of the art."

Which is what the IOC, of course, aspires to be.


Pyeongchang 2018: taking Korea to the next level


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.

Photographers crowd around as Korean Olympic Committee president Y.S. Park, IOC president Jacques Rogge and Pyeongchang 2018 president Jin Sun Kim ready for a ceremony marking the signing of the 2018 organizing committee's marketing plan agreement

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."


Special Olympics send-off: feeling the joy


Next week, there's a super little event down in New Orleans that will occupy thousands of reporters, camera crews and beignet-consuming, bead-throwing party-goers. You won't be able to escape it. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, another major sports event will be going on, too. If you read anything about it in your local newspaper, however, it's likely to be buried back in the very back pages. It's unlikely to command a fraction of the television time, if that, that Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick will.

Jim and John Harbaugh against one another for Vince Lombardi's trophy makes for a great tale, for sure. But you want a story? On display Thursday night at a Los Angeles hotel were  hundreds  -- literally -- of  stories of pride, perseverance, dedication, discipline and overcoming the odds.

Indeed, it was all genuine emotion and heartfelt enthusiasm as the 150 Special Olympics athletes of Team USA made their way down a red-carpet introduction  before a send-off dinner.

"To see the joy -- it makes me want to cry," said Julie Foudy, the soccer star turned television analyst, who was on hand to help the athletes cruise the carpet.

"And," she said, "scream, 'U-S-A!'"

Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City, Special Olympics snowboarder

Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., Special Olympics snowboarder

Some 2,300 Special Olympics athletes from more than 110 nations are due to compete in Pyeongchang in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, short-track speedskating, figure skating, floor hockey and the demonstration sport of floorball.

Organizers expect perhaps 15,000 fans and family to attend.

Just like the Olympic Games, the Special Olympics run on a two-year cycle. The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles.

In Pyeongchang, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is due to attend some of the Special Olympics action while checking out some of the already-built venues for the 2018 Winter Games; he will be joined by Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC coordination commission for the 2018 Games. They are set to be briefed by, among others, Pyeongchang 2018 chief Jin Sun Kim.

Also traveling to Korea with Rogge are the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper, as well as IOC Games executive director Gilbert Felli and sports director Christophe Dubi.

Rogge is also due Feb. 1 to meet with South Korea's president-elect, Geun Hye Park.

That's obviously big stuff.

But one wonders -- bigger, really, than what awaits, say, U.S. snowboarders Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., or Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City?

Perhaps more than anything, the Special Olympics is about breaking down stereotypes. Yes, they rip it on snowboards at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, and in disciplines such as slalom, giant slalom and super-G.

"A lot of people don't know that," Lodder, who has been boarding for five years, said.

"When I work at Home Depot and I tell them I am in the Special Olympics," he said, a smile across his face, "they are really supportive. They are really good about it."

Shilts -- the others uniformly said she was fastest on the American team -- has been snowboarding for six years.

At first, she said of learning to ride, "It was rough. It was hard." She quickly added, "But if a sport is not hard, it's not a sport."

A substitute aide for special-needs children, Shilts said this would be her first trip overseas. "I just say this will be challenging and fun and new and exciting," she said.

And one other thing. She said, "I'm going to win."












Challenges await IOC's next president

Regular readers of this space know I now have the privilege of teaching at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism in Los Angeles. One of the things about being a university professor -- my formal title, by the way, is "lecturer" -- is that for each class they make you write a syllabus. It's not easy. You have to read a lot of books to decide which books you want to use in your class.

Before heading off this week to cover the U.S. Olympic Trials in track and field and then swimming, I have been at work drafting the syllabus for a graduate-school spring 2013 course tentatively entitled "Sports and Society." A book I've run across, and like, comes from two Australian professors, Kristine Toohey and A.J. Veal, "The Olympic Games: A Social Science Perspective," because it not only provides a broad sketch of the movement but also provides excellent context for the issues likely to confront the next IOC president.

This week, it's true, the IOC seems wholly enmeshed in a black-market ticket scandal. But that is temporal. As the book makes plain, the ticket issue will -- like many others -- be confronted, and the IOC will move on.

The IOC has been in existence since 1894. In all those years, remarkably, it has had but eight presidents.

I have been covering the IOC since late 1998. I have known but two presidents: Juan Antonio Samaranch, who held the job from 1980 until 2001, and Jacques Rogge, who has been president since.

Rogge will, by term limit, step down in September 2013. The IOC will elect his successor at a regularly called election at its annual convention, called a session. The location of the session rotates around the world; this session will be held in Buenos Aires.

In about a month, when the IOC gathers in London for the Games, the world will watch Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps and the others who will make the XXX Olympiad what it will be for the history books. The IOC will hold a session in London as well and the members will stay on for the Games. Rest assured: the politicking, looking ahead to Buenos Aires, will be just as intriguing.

The list of potential candidates for the presidency is unannounced but fairly obvious. It's a once-every-12-years-opportunity, and the maneuvering has been going on for months now, if not years.

In alphabetical order, and it's important to note that being interested in running does not necessarily mean electable: Thomas Bach of Germany; Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico; Anita DeFrantz of the United States; Rene Fasel of Switzerland; Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; Denis Oswald of Switzerland. There may yet be others.

No Asian candidate has ever been elected IOC president; indeed, with the exception of Avery Brundage, the American who served from 1952-72, every IOC president has been European. Soft-spoken, well-connected, diplomatic, Ng oversaw the enormously successful 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games.

Carrion moves fluidly and fluently between the worlds of business and sports, in Spanish, English and, increasingly, French. In a world buffeted by economic crisis, the IOC has not only weathered the storm but is positioned strategically, thanks in significant measure to Carrion, its banker, a key player in the $4.38 billion rights negotiation with NBC through 2020, and other deals.

Bach comes from an Olympic background; he is a gold-medalist (fencing, 1976). He is a national Olympic committee president (Germany). He has done it all in a long and distinguished career that includes ties to business, law and the Olympics.

The IOC is always about personalities and relationships. One wonders, however, if at some level the 2013 presidential election has to be as much about the issues confronting the movement -- this is why the book is so interesting as background -- and whether the personalities of the potential contenders are best-suited to dealing with those issues.

An explanation:

There are always recurring issues in the IOC scene. For instance -- stadium elephants.

That said, certain issues emerge at particular elections as defining issues in the moment.

In 2001, when Rogge was elected, succeeding Samaranch, the issues confronting the IOC were very different from now.

When the IOC convened for that 2001 session in Moscow, the events preceding and enveloping  that election were largely based on transparency and the dispersion of power.

Rogge won in the wake of the 1998 corruption scandal in Salt Lake City, which then prompted a 1999 50-point IOC reform plan, and in the aftermath of a number of doping scandals, in particular at the 1998 Tour de France, which helped create the World Anti-Doping Agency.


The challenges are not internal but external.

That is, the next president must be prepared to deal with events that come at him (or her) not from an internal sphere (doping, member corruption) but, indeed, from the outside world.

Indeed, the context and speed at which world events are happening is perhaps the No. 1 challenge to the movement.

Just to rattle off a few items: the global recession and euro sovereign debt crisis, the geographical expansion of the Games (2014 Sochi, 2016 Rio, 2018 Pyeongchang, bids for 2020 from Doha and Baku), the growing threat of illegal sports betting.

It is absolutely true that under Rogge the IOC has seen its financial reserves grow from $105 million in 2001 to $592 million in 2010. The IOC is well-positioned to weather one four-year downturn. This largely unheralded, and under-appreciated, development may be one of Rogge's shrewdest plays as president.

The obvious big-picture question is -- what next?

How much debt, for instance, can you throw at the Olympic scene before something goes amiss? How many countries can keep picking up the tab? Was the decision by the Italian government earlier this year not to push Rome forward for the 2020 Games, citing the ongoing European financial crisis, a signal of things to come -- or was it just an aberration?

Eventually, and most likely during the 12 years of this next presidency, some very hard decisions are going to have to be made, and that will have repercussions for everyone, including the Olympic movement.

A corollary:

It would seem readily apparent that the size and expansion of the movement demand greater partnerships. There are bigger opportunities out there. But also bigger potential pitfalls.

Again, any IOC election is at its core about relationships. But this one has to be about more than schmoozing. There's too much at stake for the members to be looking for more than just comfort. The world we live in can often be not a comfortable place.

Three bids, 88 members, 49 days to go

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Two years ago, Rio de Janeiro's bid team came here and put up a map that showed the Summer Games had never been to South America, a remarkably clever piece of stagecraft that separated Rio from four other contenders and, ultimately, made the case for its stunning win for the 2016 Summer Games. The three cities for the 2018 Winter Games came here Wednesday with movies and charts and Olympic medalists by the score, the two perceived chasers, Munich and Annecy, France, looking for a similar breakout moment to make up ground against the favorite, Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Koreans came Wednesday with the admittedly "nervous" but nonetheless impressive Yuna Kim, the women's 2010 figure skating gold medalist. And they have their own world map.

That map shows that the Winter Games have been held in Asia only twice, and both times in Japan, in Nagano in 1998 and Sapporo in 1972.

This is the underlying dynamic of this 2018 race, and unless the others wield a compelling argument to the contrary, it's why this arguably is -- and always has been -- the Koreans' race to lose. The IOC will vote July 6 by secret ballot in Durban, South Africa.

The essential 2018 question is whether the forces of history, economics and demographics are -- or are not -- on Korea's side.

To frame it another way: Is the sports world still in the expansionist mode of recent years? Or is 2018 the campaign in which the IOC takes a break and opts for a more traditional locale before venturing forth anew in 2020, 2022 and beyond?

To be clear: The Koreans have a lot going for them. Then again, if they could win, of course they could lose. They have bid twice before for the Winter Games, for 2014 and 2010, and lost both times. Moreover, it's an International Olympic Committee election; by definition, the only thing predictable about an IOC campaign is that it's unpredictable.

Indeed, sometimes it's just flat-out unusual.

One such moment:

At the session Wednesday, held at the Olympic Museum, and formally dubbed a "technical briefing," with each city given a 45-minute presentation window followed by a question-and-answer session, Hicham el Guerrouj, the great Moroccan middle-distance runner who since 2004 has been an IOC member, posed a question during Annecy's time about the arrest in New York on sexual assault charges of French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

IOC president Jacques Rogge promptly ruled the question out of order.

Rogge was not asked about that question at an end-of-the day news conference.

He declared the day a big success: "It was a very good day for the International Olympic Committee because whoever wins will definitely be able to stage very good Games."

He also said, and perhaps he's absolutely right about this, perhaps he's just practicing diplomacy: "It's going to be a close race."

The Koreans, with their tagline about taking the Games to "new horizons," would appear in many regards to be driving the campaign. At the least, the other two bids have felt compelled to respond to the Korean narrative.

"When you choose the Olympic host city, it is about more than just geography," Katarina Witt, the chair of the Munich bid, stunning as ever in a low-cut dress by the Berlin designer Michalsky, told the 88 IOC members on hand, stressing that Munich would deliver full stadiums and "the single greatest experience" of each athlete's life.

It's not just about geography, of course.

Even so, the broad theme of the era in which we are living is writ large.

The nations that through the 1990s played host to major sports events have been giving way in recent years to countries and regions that, logically enough, are saying, it's our turn now.

As a for instance, this is why -- despite what is shaping up to be a comparatively weak field for 2020 -- the U.S. Olympic Committee, even if its revenue and marketing issues with the IOC are resolved, ought to give serious, serious pause before considering an entry.

One theory holds that after ranging afield to new locales -- such as Rio for 2016 -- the IOC needs to park in a safe harbor, such as the U.S., for 2020.

Applying that theory now would deliver 2018 to Germany or France -- after 2014 in Sochi, Russia, where they're building a brand-new Winter Games destination from scratch.

The competing theory is that the Olympic and international sports world is still very much in the midst of turning away from what was and toward what's next.

See, for example: Russia 2014; Brazil 2016 (and soccer's World Cup in 2014.)

Russia, again, for the World Cup in 2018. Qatar, for the World Cup in 2022.

Qatar, again, for the men's team handball world championship in 2015 -- chosen this past January over three European bids, from France, Norway and Poland.

Our world is changing all around us. Just a couple days ago, in an event that went virtually unnoticed in the United States but is big stuff in Europe, with more than 100 million people tuned in to watch the final episode, Azerbaijan, one of the former Soviet republics, won the Eurovision song contest.

Germany was 10th; Britain, 11th. Spain and France finished farther still down the list.

Azerbaijan winning Eurovision -- that underscores a major cultural and economic shift.

Here's another huge economic shift in the making, a point the Koreans have underscored time and again during this 2018 campaign:

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 comes close.

Complicating the 2018 Olympic dynamic, though, is the factor of personality politics.

Thomas Bach, the vice president and presumed IOC presidential candidate in 2013, is leading the Munich bid. He observed Wednesday that "there are cycles of life," a time where "you go to new shores" and another "where you cultivate your foundations."

While the presentations Wednesday were important, the behind-the-scenes politicking now begins in earnest.

"This is a marathon race," Bach said at a news conference. "It's of no importance whether you lead at 22k or 35k or 40k. The only thing that counts is to cross the finish line first, on the 6th of July. After today's presentation and the response, which we can feel, we go into this final stretch of this very special Olympic marathon with full confidence and with all the determination and with all the passion we can have for the Olympic Games in Germany and for winter sports in particular."

Asked where Munich stood at this point in the "marathon," Bach answered, "I don't care. This is, as I said, about winning."

For their part, the French team includes Jean-Claude Killy, the triple 1968 Games ski champion turned sports administrator. Arguably no one within the Olympic movement carries more credibility within winter sports circles. "We think we have nothing to envy the other two propositions," he told reporters after the French had briefed the 88 members.

Later, he said that he supported the bid "very strongly." He also, reading from a paper left over from the German news conference, said, "It says here that 'Munich loves you.' So I just want you to know that we love you, too."

The chairman of the Korean bid, Yang Ho Cho, met reporters immediately after the Pyeongchang presentation ended. In keeping with the Korean message of humility, he said, "The decision is up to the IOC members. We did our best," adding a moment later, "We sent a message of new horizons."


A quickie and by no means exhaustive summary of the three bids:

-- Munich: One of the world's great cities. Re-purposed 1972 Summer Games venues. Big crowds. Fantastic guaranteed atmosphere. German business underwrites 50 percent of the revenues of the seven sports on the Winter Games program. Germany hasn't hosted the Winter Games since 1936.

-- Annecy: The IOC has had a penchant for staging recent Winter Games in big cities -- Vancouver, Torino, Salt Lake City. What about the mountains? "Authentic" Annecy, amid the world's most iconic mountain range and with a sustainable development plan in mind, is uniquely positioned to take the Winter Games, and mountain communities worldwide, into a 21st-century future.

-- Pyeongchang: Time is not only ripe but right to go to Asia and South Korea to grow the Winter Games, and in a big way. 87 percent national support for 2018 Games. Major national priority. Two prior bids, spent $1.4 billion to build first-class Alpensia resort in what used to be potato fields. "We are keeping our promises to the IOC," former provincial governor and bid leader Jin Sun Kim stressed at news conference.