David Owen: Mission accomplished for Pyeongchang 2018 after Operation Durban
Wednesday, 06 July 2011
So Operation Durban meant, above all, making sure that they kept their noses in front.
Accordingly, the South Korean bid team took few risks in their time on South African soil, either in the last few days of sparring or in the final presentation itself.
When Annecy belatedly hit on a theme that had some traction – the risk of sport becoming overcommercialised – Pyeongchang reacted not in a confrontational manner, but by appearing to quietly downplay ties with Samsung, the longstanding Korean IOC sponsor.
This was in contrast to its unsuccessful bids for the 2010 and 2014 Games and illustrated the sort of confidence and good judgement that comes only with prolonged exposure to the Olympic Movement and its idiosyncratic ways.
"We are competitive enough just with Pyeongchang," said Byoung-Gug Choung, South Korea's Sports Minister, when asked if downplaying Samsung was a deliberate tactic.
Pyeongchang's media conference two days before the vote was all slick formality, in contrast to their European rivals who went for a more relaxed approach – something notoriously difficult to get right, particularly when operating primarily in a language that is not your native tongue.
As it was, this relaxed tone too often tipped over into amateurishness.
Pyeongchang was relentlessly professional, even if it was professionalism with a human touch.
Like its rivals, the Korean bid adopted the modernday lingua franca of the Olympic Movement, English, ensuring that those with the greatest fluency did most of the talking.
Even so, it was a surprise when Lee Myung-Bak (picutred), the South Korean President, delivered almost all his lengthy contribution to the closing presentation in English.
He had already underlined his dedication to the cause by touching down in Durban last Saturday (July 2), before most IOC members, bringing with him an extensive entourage and a giant heap of boxes of Korean produce.
This insistence on a meaningful commitment to a bid from the national leader has become a hallmark of campaigns worked on by Mike Lee, the communications guru, who helped Rio de Janeiro to land the 2016 Summer Games with very considerable contributions from then Brazilian President Lula.
The winning Pyeongchang presentation was shot through with trademark Lee touches.
These included the use of flags in background images to catch the eye of targeted voters; the inclusion of a very personal athlete's story – in this case that of Korean-American Toby Dawson – to tug the heartstrings; and, above all, the use of a map showing how the Winter Olympics has been a virtual monopoly for established winter sports markets over the years.
While its rivals sought to portray old bids as ancient history, Pyeongchang placed its faith in the values of patience and perseverance.
This was hardly a surprise, given its history of failed bids.
Madrid may do the same if it bids again for the Summer Games in the approaching race for 2020.
What, frankly, was a surprise was that the Koreans cracked the best joke in the three presentations.
This came when YS Park, the avuncular President of the Korean Olympic Committee, apologised to the newly-married Prince Albert of Monaco, an IOC member, for having to spend his honeymoon watching Pyeongchang's presentation - for a third time.
"It was even better the third time. Don't worry," the loquacious Prince, traditionally the most persistent inquisitor of anyone in the IOC, replied.
Pyeongchang can now embark on its own extended honeymoon, prior to preparing itself to welcome the world in six-and-a-half years' time.
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed at www.twitter.com/dodo938