Winter Games 2018: It’s Olympic Selection-Time Again!

So the returns are in and, as we all know very well, it’s Rio de Janeiro that has been chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2018 Summer Olympic Games. But competition to bring Olympic Games to one’s own city never really takes a rest. The 2010 Winter Games are due up soon (quick: Where will they be held? Do you even know?), which also means that the time is coming up to pick the city for another future Winter Olympics, namely the 2018 Games.

Brit Therkildsen of the Danish newspaper Politiken has a brief treatment about how that 2018 competition is shaping up. The short answer: underpopulated. The stimulus for her article in the first place is the fact that the deadline for applications for the 2018 Winter Games passed yesterday, and ultimately only three “cities” succeeded in putting themselves forward. I write “cities” because one of those is Pyeongchang, which is not really a city. “Sure it is!” you might be yelling, “It’s the capital of North Korea! What on earth are those leftist pinkos on the IOC thinking?” No, no – calm down! Pyeongchang is certainly Korean, but South Korean: it’s a “county” in northeast South Korea, not really that far from the “Demarcation Line” dividing the North from the South (they are still technically at war with each other – hmmm), but with “long, cold winters” and plenty of mountains, so presumably possessing what it takes (if you add massive money for construction to the mix) to stage the Winter Games. Plus, this is the third Winter Games in a row that Pyeongchang has officially applied to host.

Moving on to the others, “city” also does not describe Annecy, which is properly a “commune” in the French Alps. And it also does not really describe the third candidate, Munich, Germany. Yes, I know, Munich is properly a city, but the authorities there have made clear that, should it get the Games, many events will take place on the Königssee* or at the mountain resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the 1936 Winter Games were held.

Indeed, any of those Winter Games’ “sliding-down-a-hill” events (e.g. skiing, bobsled, etc. – the ones that first come to mind for many of us, I suspect, when we think “Winter Olympics”) will have to take place at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, because that’s where the mountains are, not Munich. One begins to suspect that all this is a clever scheme by the German authorities to take a proposal that is really “the 2018 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Games” and give it a false label of “the Munich Winter Games” in order to boost its appeal. Why would “Munich” have a special appeal? The article mentions that, if awarded the 2018 Winter Games, Munich would make history as the first city to stage both Summer and Winter Games. It does not mention – but anyone with a sense of history should realize – that Munich might also have a powerful sentimental claim to these games because of the tragic mess that was the 1972 Summer Games there, what with the Black September hostage-taking, failed rescue attempt at the airport by the German authorities and final toll of eleven Israeli athletes, one West German policeman and five terrorists dead. Staging the Olympic Games once more, presumably successfully, could do much to finally lay these painful memories to rest.

In any case, it looks like the German authorities realized the need to take such extraordinary measures – i.e. disguising their proposed 2018 Winter Olympics as “Munich” – in the face of intimidating competition from other locales. Sure, only two other candidates ultimately followed through with their applications, but there had also been interest in 2018 from places like Harbin and Changchung in China (Huh? “Changchung”?), and even Almaty in Kazakhstan! Wow; if candidates such as these had actually managed to formally enter the selection process, how could the IOC have told them any of them “no”?

* The article does mention the Königssee as an alternate location for some events should “Munich” win the bid, but I have to think that is incorrect, that the bigger and closer-to-Munich (and closer-to-Garmisch) Chiemsee might have been meant instead. On the one hand, the Chiemsee is very well-known as a water-sports location; on the other hand, the Königssee is not known for water sports at all, but rather for its pristine water (only electric boats are allowed on it) and for the fjord-like ambiance along its banks (so general access to that water is quite a problem – and they’re probably not interested in Olympic-scale development!). Oh, and if you have bothered to read down this far, through the footnote, then you deserve to be reminded that the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics are to be held in Vancouver, Canada.

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