High Expectations for Winter Olympics with Russia and North Korea

It’s been 30 years since the last Olympic Games were held in South Korea, and in 2018, South Korea seems more prepared than ever to open their country to the top athletes from all across the globe. With 90 countries competing in 13 venues, this year’s Winter Olympics is gearing up to be one of the most exciting ever. Of course, no Olympics can occur without any difficulties.

The 2018 Winter Olympics are going to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, which is just 50 miles south of the border between North and South Korea. This has the potential to create some tension during the games, especially since North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, spent much of 2017 unnerving the world with nuclear and long-range missile tests and even threatening the United States by saying that he “has nuclear button on his desk at all times.” This may seem alarming, but students like freshman Matthew Propp think that having the Olympics in this location may help to resolve tension.

“I think that having the Olympics in such a tense location will have some risk, but the importance of the event has also led the South Korean and North Korean governments to discuss the relationship between the countries and hopefully act as a starting place to resolve conflict,” said Propp.

Kim Jong-Un is using the Winter Olympics to create more diplomacy between North and South Korea. After talks between the countries, Kim Jong-Un agreed to send a figure skating team to compete in PyeongChang as well as a 230-person cheering team; this is the first Winter Olympics that North Korea has competed in in eight years. These talks have come as a relief to South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-In, who worried that North Korea would try to find a way, possibly through nuclear tests, missile tests, or terrorism, to cast a blight over the sports event that he hoped would show off South Korea’s rise as a new and dynamic economy. Sophomore Lewis James thinks that the increased tensions now that come with the Olympic games will create better relationships in the long run.

“I feel like any sort of competition like this, even though it might increase tensions now, is probably good for relations between countries overall,” said James.

This is not the first time that North Korea has created tension during the games. In 1988, when the Olympics were held in Seoul, South Korea, North Korea not only boycotted the Olympics but also was accused of trying to disrupt them by planting a bomb aboard a South Korean passenger plane in a terrorist attack aimed at sabotaging the Olympics. All 115 people aboard the plane were killed. The peaceful talks between North and South Korea and the decision to send a North Korean figure skating team to the games this year show just how far relations between North and South Korea have come in the past few decades.

“Sports are a great way to bring people with different ideologies together and maybe allowing the North Korean team to compete will help improve the situation in Korea,” said Propp when asked about the North Korean figure skating team.

The North Korean figure skating team and the talks between North and South Korea are not the only big story surrounding the 2018 Winter Olympics; the investigation into the Russian doping scheme in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is also making headlines. Russia’s Olympic team has been barred from this year’s Winter Olympics after the International Olympic Committee completed its prolonged investigation, which confirmed that members of the Russian government were in on a doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games. The punishment, though, did leave the door open for some Russian athletes who would have to pass rigorous drug tests and prove that they had not benefited from the Sochi scheme. Any Russian athletes who receive permission from the International Olympic Committee to compete will do so in a neutral uniform, and any medals they win will not count toward Russia.

This punishment is without precedent in the over century-long history of the Olympics. Propp believes that the punishment issued by the International Olympic Committee is severe, but it could help to make sure no other countries try to pull the same stunt that Russia did in 2014.

“I think the punishment is a little too severe for what Russia did,” said Propp, “but having such a severe punishment shows that the Olympic committee has no tolerance for cheating and sets an example for the rest of the world for what happens if someone tries to cheat.”

Though Russia’s penalty may seem severe, it is in line with what had been advocated for by key whistle-blowers who brought the doping scandal to light. Though the severe punishment does seem to match the severe doping, some students like sophomore Austin Turner believe that the International Olympic Committee may have been considering more than just the 2014 doping scandal when they made the decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Some of the decision might also be coming from other international events that Russia has been involved with such as the 2016 election,” said Turner, “so it might be more than just the doping scandal going into the decision.”

The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics will be the biggest Winter Olympics ever with 102 different events, which is the most events ever in the Winter Olympics, and 90 countries competing. The United States will be sending 169 athletes to compete. The opening ceremony for the Olympics is on Friday, Feb. 9, and the Olympics will last until Feb. 25. This begs the question – how much of the Olympics are people actually going to watch?

“I’ll probably watch as much as I can for the first few days and then watch significantly less for the rest of the Olympics,” said Propp.

“I’m going to watch skiing, but I won’t watch as much as I would if it were the Summer Olympics,” said Turner.