(ATR) Snow began falling in PyeongChang Tuesday afternoon soon after the arrival of IOC President Thomas Bach. Cold weather will probably not be a problem for these Winter Games in the mountains of South Korea. At the same time Bach will be stepping carefully over the next month on some figurative slick ice, international politics.
IOC President Thomas Bach and wife Claudia arrive in PyeongChang (ATR)
Like hundreds of thousands of other sports fans will do next month, by way of a new high-speed rail line, Bach arrived on time.
A couple dozen volunteers formed a welcoming party for the IOC leader, greeting him with polite applause as he entered the lobby of the Jinbu station. The station is closest to the Olympic Park and the hotel for IOC members.
"We can say the stage is set and now we're looking forward with great anticipation and with great excitement to a wonderful Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018," Bach said to reporters, numbering about 75, mostly from the Korean press.
“The Korean people know that the world is looking on Korea and that the people all over the world are enthusiastic about the news from Korea."
The IOC chief talked with the volunteers, presenting IOC pins to each. He held the white tiger mascot Soohorang, Claudia Bach a bouquet.
The Bachs will spend the next month in the frigid mountains with IOC colleagues and the spectators who start arriving Feb. 9, the date for the opening ceremony.
PyeongChang CoComm chair Gunilla Lindberg, POCOG President Hee-Beom Lee and Bach (ATR)
These Winter Games are the second to take place under Bach’s watch and could be remembered for years to come. The IOC president flung open the doors to the Winter Olympics when North Korea leader Kim Jong Un displayed sudden willingness for the DPRK to go to PyeongChang one month ago.
Since then, a unified team was cobbled together under a reunification flag. A group of North Korean women have joined up with the officially qualified team from South Korea for ice hockey. Along with the pairs figure skaters who qualified to compete but did not apply for credentials in time, wild card slots have opened in skiing and speedskating. Bach has been the great enabler for whatever IOC rules or protocol needed bending.
"It's not only about the ice hockey team. I think it's about the message the joint march of the team will send," Bach said in the train station just 100km south of the border.
"This has been enthusiastically welcomed by the world that their two national Olympic committees came to this agreement with the IOC to send this great message."
For Bach, it might be a respite from the malingering hangover wrought by a three-year-old Russian doping scandal. PyeongChang will go into the books with an asterisk, the first Winter Games without a team fielded by the Russian Olympic Committee, suspended in December by order of Bach and the IOC Executive Board, the latest chapter in the Russian saga. Bach and the IOC will be walking a careful line in the coming weeks handling the Russian problem with the clumsy to say Olympic Athletes from Russia designation, for those cleared to compete by an IOC review.
Bach will also have to decide by the end of the Olympics whether to drop the suspension against the Russian NOC . The IOC decision in December left open that possibility when it took action to ban the country that hosted the previous Winter Games, a painful first for the IOC.
Reported in PyeongChang by Ed Hula.
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