DURBAN, South Africa — The victory margin was massive and the message loud and clear: Persistence paid off for South Korea in its third consecutive bid for the Winter Olympics.
After two stinging defeats in a decade of trying, the South Korean city of Pyeongchang finally won its Olympic prize Wednesday, burying two European rivals in a landslide vote for the 2018 Winter Games and bringing them back to the lucrative Asian market.
“We are grateful to people who persevere and are patient, and each time the bid has improved,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said.
The Koreans lost narrowly in the final round of voting for the 2010 and 2014 Games, but this time they defeated Munich and Annecy, France, by a one-sided margin that few had expected.
“Koreans have been waiting for 10 years to host the Winter Games,” bid leader Cho Yang-ho said. “Now we have finally achieved our dream.
“I believe that all the IOC members understood our message. They understood it was right time, right place, right now.”
Needing 48 votes for victory, Pyeongchang won an overwhelming 63 of the 95 cast in the first round of the secret ballot. Munich received 25 and Annecy seven.
“I was surprised by the one-round victory and I was surprised by the margin,” Rogge told The Associated Press. “We had three technically equivalent bids and then the other factors came into play and definitely the patience and perseverance of the Koreans has been rewarded.”
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who delivered a speech in English during the final presentation, reminded the IOC of his country’s successful hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, and said: “Now Korea wants to give back to the Olympic movement and to the world.”
Pyeongchang will be the third city in Asia and first outside Japan to host the Winter Games. Japan held the games in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.
Under the slogan “New Horizons,” Pyeongchang drove home the theme that it deserved to win on a third try by offering the potential of spreading the Olympics to a lucrative new market and become a hub for winter sports in the region.
“They have tried very hard and they have done everything that we told them to do and I think that a lot of people felt that they really deserved it,” Norwegian IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg said. “And they will have a really good legacy for the whole of east Asia.”
Pyeongchang hit all the right notes in its final presentation, combining emotion and humour with its solid technical bid plans.
“We never gave up, and tried again and listened to your advice and improved our plans,” said Kim Jin-sun, the former governor of Gangwon Province, where Pyeongchang is located.
“I believe it is my destiny to stand in front of you for the third time,” he said, his voice choking and eyes welling with tears.
“Our people have waited for over 10 years for the Winter Olympics. Today I humbly ask for your support for the chance of hosting the Winter Games for the first time in our country.”
The Korean victory followed the IOC’s trend in recent votes, having taken the Winter Games to Russia (Sochi) for the first time in 2014 and giving South America its first Olympics with the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s kind of like the Rio situation where it’s time,” Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. “They’ve been here twice already. … They’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do. If you’re a worldwide organization, you have got to be able to show that by moving around the world.”
Waving Korean flags, Pyeongchang delegates in the conference hall erupted in cheers and chants after Rogge opened a sealed envelope and read the words they had longed to hear: “The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing that the 23rd Olympic Winter Games in 2018 are awarded to the city of Pyeongchang.”
President Lee turned to 20-year-old reigning Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na, who was in tears.
“I am lost for words about now,” Kim said. “I’m really excited. It will be very good to compete in my own country.”
In Pyeongchang, hundreds of people watching a giant TV screen at a ski jump venue roared with delight, dancing, hugging and shedding tears of joy.
Despite South Korea’s elation, worries about North Korea will likely linger over the Pyeongchang Games. The town of 47,000 people, 180 kilometres east of Seoul, is in Gangwon province, which shares a tense border with the communist country.
North and South Korea technically remain in a state of war, with their 1950-53 conflict ending in a truce, not a peace treaty, and tensions have been high since Seoul said the North sank a South Korean warship last year, killing 46 sailors. Also last year, North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing four people, including two civilians.
Still, both countries have co-operated before in the sports arena. In 2002, South Korea helped pay for North Korea to send cheerleaders to the Busan Asian Games. Athletes from the two Koreas also marched together in the opening ceremony at the Sydney and Athens Olympics.
Pyeongchang has stressed during its bids that a Winter Olympics would encourage a mood of peace and even prod North Korea into reaching out to the world.
It was the first time an Olympic bid race with more than two finalists was decided in the first round since 1995, when Salt Lake City defeated three others to win the 2002 Winter Games. The Utah capital, later embroiled in a bribery scandal related to the bid, won by 40 votes — 54 to 14 each for Sion and Ostersund.
Pyeongchang’s win was the second biggest first-round margin in Olympic voting, according to IOC records. Like Salt Lake City, Innsbruck won by 40 votes (49-9) when it beat Calgary for the 1964 Winter Games.
Had no majority been reached in the opening round Wednesday, the city with the fewest votes would have been eliminated and the two remaining cities gone to a second and final ballot.
Pyeongchang was determined to win in the first round after its previous two defeats. The Koreans had led in each of the first rounds in the votes for the 2010 and 2014 Games but then lost in the final ballots to Vancouver and Sochi.
The Canadian Olympic Committee extended its congratulations to Pyeongchang in a statement.
“We wish the people of Pyeongchang good luck on this exciting journey hosting the Olympic Winter Games,” said Jean R. Dupre, CEO and Secretary General of the COC. “It is an event that can change a country, as we have seen here in Canada.
“The Canadian Olympic Team looks forward to competing against the world’s best in this wonderful setting.”
There were no sympathy votes for the underdogs in the first round this time. Annecy’s seven-vote total was the lowest since Quebec City got the same number in the first round of the 1995 ballot won by Salt Lake City.
“I think everyone said, ’I’m not going to play the usual IOC game,” Pound said. “I’ll give you first-round support. If I really support ’X,’ I’m going to go right there.”
Still, he was surprised by the scale of the victory.
“I suspect that nobody thought that it was 63-25,” he said. “It’s not 2 1/2 times as good as Munich.”