The sun has set on the Games: What’s next for South Korea?

Was hosting the Winter Olympic Games a hit or a miss for South Korea? Source: Shutterstock.

SOUTH KOREA officially drew the curtains on the highly anticipated 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on March 18, 2018, after the Winter Paralympic Games came to a close.

Moments before the fireworks lit the sky at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said, “We have seen here how sport can make the world a better place … these are the Games of new horizons.”

Hosting the Winter Olympics is an ambitious and tough feat, one that requires blood, sweat, tears, and of course, money.

For South Korea, introducing the lesser known Gangwon province to the world and preparing to welcome athletes and delegates from around the globe took years of planning, investing, building, and tech-ing up.

It’s estimated that South Korea spent nearly US$13 billion on building several new arenas, event spaces and lodging structures for the Games. The star of the Games, however, was the 35,000-seat pentagonal-shaped Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.

Built especially for the Games, it cost a hefty US$109 million. Initially, the plan was to demolish the stadium after the Paralympic Games have wrapped. But the post-Games plans have since changed.

The German Olympic team at the Games’ opening ceremony in the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. Source: Shutterstock.

“The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games were a very special and important part of the Games and were a huge success, providing the athletes and spectators with wonderful memories that will last a lifetime,” PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games’ International Media Relations Team Manager Ms. Lee Ji Young told Travel Wire Asia.

“The Olympic stadium will now be transformed into an Olympic History Museum. It will include the handprints of all Games medalists and a host of other memorabilia so that the people of the province and all who visit it for years to come will be able to share all the memories and amazing moments of the Games.”

South Korea is facing a new challenge now, and that is to keep the momentum going, having recorded some 1.4 million tourists for the Games in February.

The dream is to turn it into a prime winter games destination and a tourist attraction, perhaps emulate the success of the Japanese rural city, Sapporo.

The Alpensia Olympic Ski Jump Center in PyeongChang. Source: Shutterstock.

“For the venues that will remain as competition venues, we look forward to welcoming back world-class athletes and championships for many years to come and there are already several plans for international competitions to return to the Gangwon province in both snow and ice sports. We also hope that many teams and athletes will look at PyeongChang as a training base ahead of Beijing 2022,” Lee Ji Young explained.

To accommodate to-be visitors, PyeongChang invested new arenas, new highways, and a new KTX high-speed bullet train rail link that connects Incheon International Airport and Seoul to PyeongChang, opening up the region to tourism and connectivity to the country’s major cities.

It takes about three hours’ worth of travel time by car from Incheon International Airport to Gangwon province. But the new train effectively cuts the travel time by more than half.

One thing’s for sure, those aren’t the only legacies of the Games, as a good measure of politics was thrown into the mix.

It saw North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, attending the opening ceremony – a historical appearance as she is the first member of the North Korea’s ruling bloodline to cross the peninsula since the Korean War.

The display of unity between North Korea and South Korea – two nations that are still technically at war – during the Games dominated conversations both virtually and in real life. The countries’ delegations proudly marched together during the opening ceremony under one unified flag, a powerful message of peace.

United Olympic team Korea marching into the Games’ opening ceremony on Feb 9, 2018. Source: Shutterstock.

It made headlines around the world and kicked off a series of unprecedented, highly publicized events.

Kim Jong Un meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks, Kim Jong Un making his first foreign trip as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un pledging to denuclearize and “write a new history of national reunification“, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considering meeting Kim Jong Un, and US President Donald Trump agreeing to sit-down with Kim Jong Un.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang will continue to rewrite history as we speak.