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  • PyeongChang President Expects Hundreds of Russian Athletes


    (ATR) PyeongChang 2018 President Hee Beom Lee says organizers are preparing for more than 200 Russian athletes who will be treated just like every other competitor.

    Hee Beom Lee in PyeongChang (ATR)
    Lee gave an estimate in an interview with Yonhap, where he discussed the final month and a half of preparations for the Games.

    “We speculate some 210 Russian athletes will come to South Korea,” Lee said. "The POCOG is ready to support Russians from their arrival to departure just like any other athletes."

    The IOC banned the Russian Olympic Committee as part of its sanctions from the fallout of the Russia state sponsored doping scandal. However, it provided a guideline for how Russian athletes can compete as neutral “Olympic Athletes from Russia”.  A committee will determine the eligibility of more than 300 Russian athletes for PyeongChang 2018 in the coming weeks.

    Included in the IOC Executive Board decision on Russia is the possibility for the ROC suspension to be lifted for the 2018 Olympic Closing Ceremony. That would mean Russian athletes could march back into the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium under their own flag to close the Games.

    Lee said in the interview that organizers expect 95 countries to send athletes to PyeongChang. Organizers remain optimistic that one of those countries will be North Korea. Two North Korean figure skaters qualified for the Games but missed the registration deadline with the International Skating Union.

    North Korea boycotted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but sent athletes to the 2002 and 2014 Asian Games in South Korea.

    South Korean President Jae In Moon told Korean reporters earlier this month that any decision about a North Korean delegation will likely come “at the last minute”. 

    "Every peace-loving country and athlete has a right to compete at the Olympics, and North Korea can't be an exception," Lee said. "President Moon and IOC President Thomas Bach have said they will help North Koreans take part in the Olympics. I believe the North will come here."

    Paralympic Spirit Needed

    Lee said that for the 2018 Winter Olympics to be considered a Korean success story, the enthusiasm for the Games must spill over to the Paralympics.

    Paralympic ticket sales have lagged far behind already sluggish Olympic sales. PyeongChang 2018 reported selling just over 60 percent of Olympic ticket sales so far, and 37 percent of tickets for the Paralympics. Organizers say they plan to sell 220,000 Paralympic tickets.

    “We're seeing less interest in the Paralympics, so right now, we have to focus on that,” Lee said. “We can call it a successful Olympics once we also stage the Paralympics on a high note."

    Traditionally the Paralympic Games do not sell out before the Olympic Games start. Ticket sales for the Rio Paralympics picked up once spectators saw the Olympics on television and realized they had missed an opportunity to go to the Games. 

    Written by Aaron Bauer

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