With the experience of Sochi, Russia, seven months in the rearview mirror, the Canadian Olympic Committee recently sent the High Performance Directors of its winter-sports teams to check in on PyeongChang, South Korea, to scout out the 2018 Olympic venues.
“It’s a very beautiful area,” Cross Country Canada’s Tom Holland told FasterSkier. “It’s not, like, rock-type mountains, but it’s very hilly and very pretty… It’s a more simple Games. They won’t be spending $52 billion, but they will have to do a little work.”
The group visited the coastal and mountain clusters, and Holland said that one big difference he noticed immediately was how close everything in the mountain cluster was to its center. Transportation and logistics between venues, villages and ceremonies will be much easier than in other recent Games, he predicted.
“Here, you could walk to the village if you had to,” he said. “We haven’t had a Games like that where the opening and closing ceremonies are right up in the mountains in quite some time. I think that’s a real plus for them. And it’s not that far to the coast, but the coast will be coming up to the mountains instead of how it’s been, with the mountain people having to go down to the coast.”
In terms of venues themselves, some are close to completion, while others have farther to go. The biathlon trails, for instance, were used for a World Championships in 2009. There are small changes requested by the International Biathlon Union, but they are more or less good to go.
What Holland found on the cross-country ski side wasn’t so polished.
“The cross-country venue has a few challenges,” he laughed. “You have a stadium and timing buildings, and it looks good. But it was last used when it was designed in about 1999. Historically it’s not so far, but things have happened since then. Homologation wasn’t a thing then. If you go over the first hill out of the course, they’ve only been using the first two kilometers, and then there’s a golf course. That presents some challenges.”
Nevertheless, Holland said that he could see some of the lines that would probably become the future Olympic trails. And he liked what he saw.
“There’s a nice steady climb there up to the high point there [on the golf course],” he explained. “There’s a bit of work to do there, but it will all come in together… The profile won’t be as difficult as in Sochi – the Russians designed that to have some really hard steep climbs. I don’t think it will be that tough. Probably more like a Callaghan Valley type of profile … just trying to picture it on the golf course, there are some good climbs that will be really great for TV because you can see all the way across to the top.”
The experience was still an improvement over his first site visit to Sochi, Holland said.
“Sochi, I remember going to the alpine, and they were tearing things out of the bush and the mud, and carving into the wilderness,” he explained.
And along the cross-country trails, trees were down everywhere. This is established. Even if we have to go up this golf course, you can see where the lines are going to go.”
Besides trying to get a glimpse of the trails where his athletes will be racing in four years, Holland said that a big goal of the trip was to start sussing out logistics.
“You have to look at transport,” he said. “You have to look not just at the Olympics, but how are you going to get the pre-Games races in there, how are you going to get your technicians in there early before the Games, where are they going to stay. And will everyone stay in the village, what about people who don’t have accreditation, how can you look for housing. You have to start to see how that can be done or not done.”
For instance, Holland said, he found that there are very few ski trails besides the race trails, which could make training, warmup and cool down dull or perhaps even challenging — much like in Sochi. But a positive difference between the two Olympic venues is that in PyeongChang, he found many better opportunities for running, which could come in handy for his athletes.
While the town surrounding the Alpensia Nordic center is not a big one and much of the hotel infrastructure is not yet built, Holland is confident that things will go smoothly.
“I think it’s just an easier country to operate in,” he said. “People are very friendly and very open to us being there. They shared information and were happy to do it. We had some locals showing us around, and it’s a very interesting culture.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.