As Rio wraps up, world looks to Summer, Winter Olympics in Asia

RIO DE JANEIRO — With South America’s first Summer Olympics coming to a close in Brazil, the international sports spotlight will shift to Asia for the next two Olympic Games — the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and the 2020 Summer Games in Japan.

Following an Olympics for which there was a great deal of concern about the completion of infrastructure and venue projects in the final months leading into the Opening Ceremony, Korean and Japanese Olympic officials say they’ve already made significant progress in their preparations to host the world’s best athletes.

Pyeongchang’s new horizon

The city of Pyeongchang has been preparing to welcome the world to the snowy mountainside and cool coast of northeast South Korea since 2011, when it was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Koreans are known for being fast, fast, fast. That’s our culture,” said Myungwon Lee, project manager of public engagement for the Pyeongchang Games.

According to Lee, more than 80 percent of the 12 new venues have already been constructed.

Additionally, the high-speed rail running from the airport to the main Olympic area is scheduled to be finished by June 2017.

Pyeongchang representatives promoted the upcoming Winter Games in Rio in an interactive pavilion located just north of the beach volleyball stadium in Copacabana.

“We’re raising awareness here,” Lee said. “The local people don’t even have ‘Winter Olympic Games’ in their vocabulary. Telling them, ‘Hey, this exists,’ is already a learning opportunity.”

Visitors got a taste of Korean culture, as well as winter in Korea, by writing their names in calligraphy, using virtual reality to “ski” down a snowy mountain and attending taekwondo and Korean pop performances.

Attendees were even given the opportunity to win two tickets to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“Everyone understands who is part of the Olympic Games,” Lee said. “After Rio, all the attention will naturally be turned to Pyeongchang, South Korea, so our goal is to promote them as much as possible in this space.”

South Korea hosted the Olympics once before, but this will be the country’s first time hosting the Winter Games. The Summer Olympics were held in Seoul in 1988. Now, 30 years later and two hours east of the capital, the country wants to bring attention to one of its lesser-known cities.

“It’s a new era,” Lee said. “There’s different culture now, historically. Seoul was Seoul. It was a big success, and we finally put it on the map. But this is Pyeongchang. It’s the Winter Games and it’s different. We learn from the past, but this one is brand new.”

In hosting these Games, city officials hope the influx of international visitors will bring economic improvement and help local businesses.

The vision for the 2018 Olympics is “New Horizons,” which South Korea was attempting to demonstrate in Rio through its use of technology at its open-air display just feet from the Atlantic Ocean.

“Koreans are a little shy,” Lee said. “It’s within most Asian culture to be more quiet to appear polite. But it’s the Olympic Games – it’s a party and a festival so we want to teach our cultural way.”

Tokyo 50 years later

The Olympics in Asia will differ from those in South America in lifestyle, engagement and organization, among other things, according to Tokyo 2020 officials.

“We saw how the Brazilian people pump up their athletes but Japanese people are a little bit shy, so it’s good to learn from Rio,” Toshihiko Inoue, the senior manager of community engagement for Tokyo 2020, said.

Like South Korea, Japanese representatives also took advantage of Rio’s international audience during the 2016 Olympics to promote their second Games, in the Japan House.

Tokyo last hosted the Olympics in 1964, more than 50 years before they return in 2020.

“The first Olympics in 1964 was hard because of the bad transportation,” Inoue said. “This time, Tokyo is refurbishing old stadiums including building a brand new one and even adding on to public transportation.”

These improvements are all factored within their Olympic vision, “Achieving Personal Best.”

Arizona State University alumnus Mark Quinn attended the Rio Games and visited the Japan House to catch a glimpse of what Tokyo 2020 will be like.

“We will be [in Tokyo] without question,” Quinn said. “I love Tokyo. I always like visiting there and I think the Japanese will do a wonderful job of promoting the Games and the logistics will be great so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Quinn graduated from ASU in 1977 and was a walk-on athlete on the track and field team the same year it won its first NCAA championship.

He and his friends try to attend as many Olympics as they can and have been to the track and field events in Rio every day.

“[In Rio] the transportation is the biggest single issue,” Quinn said. “In Tokyo, every time I’ve been there, we’ve used the subways extensively.”

However, Quinn believes the two countries are similar in their language barriers to English.

Since hosting the Games in 1964, Tokyo has focused on improving the city physically and socially.

“The infrastructure is changing but, more than that, the people’s minds are changing,” Masashi Imai, manager of Tokyo’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “Before, Japanese people were very shy to welcome people because they still have a little difficulty speaking English but today it is much better than before.”

Operations dedicated to putting the Games on have an estimated cost of 350 billion yen, or about $3.5 million, according to the Tokyo 2020 website. The budget for the entire event is still being finalized.

Rio welcomed golf and rugby into the 2016 Olympics after years of petitioning to bring them back. In Tokyo, five new sports will be included – karate, skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, baseball and softball.

“No one knows how it’s going to go,” Imai said. “Of course baseball is very popular in Japan and we cannot wait for that one. But surfing, it’s a bit challenging for that one, but we love new challenges.”

Team USA water polo gold medalist Kaleigh Gilchrist grew up surfing in Newport Beach, California, and hopes to go for gold in surfing at the 2020 Games.

“2020 is a big chance for showing Tokyo as a big tourist destination,” Imai said.