With temperatures in Pyeongchang falling to as low as -14 degrees, these are tipped to be the coldest Winter Games yet.
To add to the chill factor – and to save time and money – the Olympic stadium was built without a roof. The 35,000 spectators at the February 9 opening ceremony will be well advised to don the blankets and raincoats provided by organisers.
“The only thing foreigners can do is the same thing locals do: bundle up,” Nam Sun-woo, a local fishmonger, told the US’s Associated Press.
“Not many outsiders understand how cold it gets here. It’s not like where they’re from. This kind of cold is completely different.”
Just a 70-minute high-speed train ride from Seoul International Airport, the small city of Pyeongchang is getting ready to host what has been dubbed the “most advanced Games”. Certainly, the Olympic spectator and TV fan experience aims to set new standards.
All 12 venues have 5G Wi-Fi, athletes’ helmets will have virtual-reality cameras, and augmented reality-based navigation apps will cement South Korea’s reputation as one of the world’s most technologically advanced and digitally connected nations.
And it’s been done on a budget, at least by Olympics standards – an estimated US$12.9 billion ($A16 billion). By comparison, the 2014 Games, held in Sochi in Russia, reportedly cost $US51 billion ($A63.3 billion) – and were marked by politics, extravagance and grandstanding.
Not that the 2018 Winter Olympics will be entirely devoid of politics. The thorny issue of North Korea will inevitably cast a shadow over Pyeongchang – Games organisers are even spelling the host city’s name with a central upper-case C so foreigners do not confuse it with North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un apparently also intends to stage the parade that is his nation’s annual show of military might on the day before the Games open. It is traditionally held in April.
Professor Robert Kelly of Busan University in Seoul said the parade decision was politically motivated.
“It’s going to be gigantic, it’s a day before the Olympics – that kind of sends a signal,” he said.
But there have been promising signs that Kim will also use the Games to improve his, and his isolated country’s, international standing.
In an unprecedented diplomatic move, there will be a joint Korean women’s ice hockey team at Pyeongchang. North Korea will also send figure-skating duo Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik to compete.
It should all make for a stunning spectator experience, a world away from the first Winter Olympics. They were held at Chamonix, in France, in 1924 and featured full tweed suits, wooden skis and nothing more than a stiff drink to warm up the curling teams.