Malcolm Kelly - Monday Feb. 24, 2014 11:44 ET

Up next: Pyeongchang to host 2018 Winter Olympics

South Korean host city faces questions of NHL, North Korea

Pyeongchang mayor Lee Sok-ra waves the Olympic flag

Lee Sok-ra, the mayor of Pyeongchang, South Korea, waves the Olympic flag at the closing ceremony of the Sochi Games on Sunday. Pyeongchang is host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

As Mayor Lee Seok-rae accepted the Olympic Flag on Sunday evening at Sochi to start the symbolic march towards Pyeongchang’s 2018 Winter Games, three key questions seemed to hang in the air.

What about the weather?

What about the National Hockey League?

What about the North Koreans?

Right from the start, snow and wintry temperatures won’t likely be a problem in the mountainous north-eastern province of Gangwon-do, whose northern border is the famous 38th parallel, which has separated North from South Korea since a cease-fire was agreed to on July 27, 1953 to end a violent three-year war.

The 23rd Winter Games will run from Feb. 9 to 23, 2018, a two-week period that sees average temperatures down in Pyeongchang running around 2 to 4 C in the daytime, down to -4 to -6 C at night.

Up in the mountain resort of Alpensia, where the main Olympic village will be located, it’s a tad colder and temperatures do, on occasion, plummet. Snow, either natural or artificial, should be plentiful with low enough nighttime temperatures. 

Athletes in Sochi complained regularly about slushy snow conditions as temperatures soared.

Alpensia, 211 kilometres east of Seoul, opened in 2011 and will host ski jumping, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sliding sports and the alpine slalom races. 

Further north, and on the coast of the Sea of Japan, the city of Gangneung will host hockey, curling, and long and short track speed skating. One of the arenas will be temporary.

Freestyle and snowboard events will be held in Bokwang, west of Alpensia. A resort in Jungbong, south of Alpensia, will be built from scratch to host the downhill, super-G and giant slalom.

All of the locations are within 50 km of each other with Pyeongchang as the central hub.

A new high-speed rail link is already under construction between Seoul, the South Korean capital and site of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, and Pyeongchang, cutting travel time to an hour. Such conveniences are important for visitors and athletes coming into the international airport.

Officials say the whole Games will cost about $10 billion US, a mere fifth the reported cost of the Sochi Games. 

Kim Jin-sun, head of the 2018 organizing committee, believes there will be a strong contrast between Seoul's 1988 Games and those in Pyeongchang. 

“Thirty years ago the world saw a developing country,” he told reporters in Sochi. “Just one generation later, the world will see a truly developed country through these Games.”

Whither NHL?

And then there’s the National Hockey League.

As with Sochi, there are team owners in the world’s top professional loop who do not want to continue sending their players to the quadrennial, especially with plans afoot to bring back the World Cup in 2016.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told a press conference on Tuesday that a decision on participation could come within six months.

Main issues will be player insurance and logistics, the latter covering the amount of travel involved in going to South Korea, plus scheduling of the games themselves and how involved the NHL itself can be on its own media platforms.

Co-existence or continued enmity?

There is no way to tell whether a country as closed and paranoid as North Korea would consider entering the 2018 Games. They have appeared at eight Winter Olympics going back to 1964, but also skipped six of them in that time, including Sochi.

Kim would like to see them.

“I know North Korea has some winter sport facilities and interest is growing in these sports,” he said. “I hope winter sports will develop in North Korea and four years from now North Korean athletes will be able to come.

“If that happens, it will be a good thing.”

North Korea has won just two Winter Games medals, one in long track speed skating and the other in short track.

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