North Korea triggers 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics security scare

Concerns over the security situation in Korea are casting a shadow over the Winter Olympics due to be held in Pyeongchang next February. Austria and France have said if security deteriorates, their teams will not go.

Austria's head of the national Olympic Committee Karl Stoss said on Friday that it could envisage staying away from the Pyeongchang games next February in South Korea.

"If the situation worsens and the security of our athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea," Stoss said.

His comments followed a warning from France's Sports Minister Laura Flessel on Thursday: "If this gets worse and we do not have our security assured, then our French team will stay here."

The German foreign ministry issued a statement saying the security question and the possibility of keeping the German team at home would be addressed "in good time."

Südkorea Logo Olympische Winterspiele 2018

The logo for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

Pyeongchang is only 80 kilometers (50 miles) from South Korea's frontier with the north. The games are scheduled for February 9-25.

Lithuania's Olympic Committee echoed Germany's response as spokeswoman Ieva Kutkaite said on Friday: "There is still a lot of time left until the Olympics Winter Games so that there is no need now for any decision." She said her committee would follow the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

IOC denies threat to games

Flessel's comments came after IOC President Thomas Bach said: "there is not even a hint that there is a threat for security of the Games in the context of tensions between North Korea and some other countries." The IOC is continuing to monitor the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

On Friday, North Korea threatened to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, in response to further sanctions imposed by the US administration. In a speech to the UN General Assembly, President Donald Trump had threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea, if necessary.

In response, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called Trump a "mentally deranged dotard" indicating someone in his dotage, a state or period of senile decay marked by a decline of mental alertness.


'The Alps of Asia'

One big advantage of holding the Games in a relatively small country is that all the venues are within a short drive of each other. The most prominent location is Alpensia (The Alps of Asia) where almost half the events will take place.


Several events set for debut

The 2018 event will see 102 events in seven winter sports split into 15 disciplines. Big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass start speedskating and alpine team skiing are the newcomers.


Soohorang und Bandabi

White tiger Soohorang and Black bear Bandabi are the affectionate-looking mascots for next year's Olympics. The name of the big cat is composed from the Korean words for protection and tiger and intended to symbolize the close connection the Games has to the Korean environment.


Environmental concerns

The name of a tiger mascot won't entirely soothe enivronmental concerns. Almost 60,000 trees, some up to 500 years old, have been felled to make way for the Games. These included the Wangsasre tree, a rare birch, much to the annoyance of some environmental campaigners.


The hosts' choice

While Korean interest in winter sports isn't exactly sky high, ice skating and speed skating do enjoy a strong following in the country. About 30,000 spectators watched the World Cup in the country at the end of last year.


The Ice Temple

The recently completed Gangneung Ice Arenas hold two ice rinks, one for training and one for competition. The building consists of four overground and two underground floors and has an environmentally friendly cooling system for the ice. After the Games, it will become a public leisure facility.


Germans have hope in bob, skeleton, toboggan

Organizers will hope the locals take to the fast-paced track sports like luge, bobsleigh and skeleton, which are also the events in which Germany has its strongest medal chances. Athletes will hurtle down this course at about 130 kilometers per hour (81 miles per hour).

jm/kl (dpa, AFP)

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