For 2018, a Different Plan Is in Place

South Korean performers celebrated the symbolic handoff to the next Winter Olympic city, Pyeongchang.

SOCHI, Russia — The sun was shining once more by the Black Sea, and the jackets were off with the Olympic flame still a few hours away from being extinguished.

“You better bring your jacket to Pyeongchang,” said Kim Jin-sun, head of the organizing committee for the 2018 Games in South Korea. “Much colder than Sochi.”

As the Russians and the members of the International Olympic Committee begin recovering from the sleepless nights that surely accompanied their wild, seven-year ride to Sochi’s closing ceremony, the cosmic question is this: Where do the Winter Games go from here in a world of climate instability, declining winter sports participation numbers in the West and spiraling costs and scale for Olympic organizers?

For now, all that is clear is that the next Games are going to Pyeongchang, long the leading destination for winter sports in South Korea and now eager to challenge Japan for that role in East Asia.

The good news for those who still cannot wrap their head around Sochi’s reported total expenditure of $51 billion — trains, roads and gondolas included — is that Pyeongchang does not need to build everything from scratch.

It already has five of its 13 venues, and a different plan. As has become fashionable, the 2018 Games will be a two-cluster affair: with the indoor ice sports in the city and the snow and sliding sports in the mountains. But the difference in Pyeongchang’s case is that the mountain sites are taking the lead in symbolic and practical terms.

Since Lillehammer, Norway, staged its postcard Winter Olympics in 1994 with locals riding their kick sleds through the quaint, snowy streets, the official host cities have all been of significant size: Nagano, Japan, in 1998; Salt Lake City in 2002; Turin, Italy, in 2006; Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010; and now Sochi.

In 2018, the indoor ice sports will be in Gangneung, a northeastern coastal city of about 230,000. But the focal point in terms of identity will be Pyeongchang, the more lightly populated nearby county where the mountain sites will be based and which will also be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies.

“It’s a smaller city, but to give you more the element of the Winter Olympics, we felt like it was better for us to have Pyeongchang as the center stage of the games,” Kim said in an interview conducted with an interpreter.

A former governor of Gangwon Province, Kim was a driving force behind the bid, which failed twice before succeeding on its third attempt. Pyeongchang, in an upset, lost to Sochi in the 2007 vote for the 2014 Games: a result that caught some of the Russian bid team by surprise, which helps explain the scramble of the last seven years.

“It’s very remarkable to see that Sochi actually delivered many facilities and venues in a relatively short period of time,” Kim said. “This is remarkable because last May, I was here in Sochi and the construction was still in process.”

Kim has visited most of the modern Winter Olympic cities. He has also been to Chamonix, France, site of the original Winter Games in 1924. But he said that Lillehammer left the deepest impression on him and that he and his team had studied it closely and would try to follow its compact template with the emphasis on enthusiastic crowds and local winter culture.

One of the first orders of business will be to try to halt the flood of phonetically challenged Westerners who continue to confuse Pyeongchang with the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

“Hopefully I will stop explaining that I am not working for North Korea,” Stratos Safioleas, a consultant with Pyeongchang, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Gangwon once formed a single province with Kangwon Province, which now lies on the other side of the North Korean border. Kim is well aware that the proximity to his politically unstable neighbor will not pass unnoticed.

“I understand such concerns from the Western world, but you know South Korea and North Korea, the Korean Peninsula have been divided over the past 60 to 70 years, and the situation is the same at the moment,” he said.

He pointed to South Korea’s successfully staging major sporting events like the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the 2002 World Cup of soccer and the 2011 world athletics championships.

“This situation hasn’t posed any threat to such mega events, so we are not concerned about this,” Kim said. “Over all, personally, I believe the inter-Korean relationship will be further advanced going forward to realize peace on the Korean Peninsula and to achieve mutual development.”

That is a hopeful prospect, and so — in a much more minor key — is Pyeongchang’s centralized attempt to put the accent on atmosphere. Kim said he expects full venues because of local enthusiasm and relatively easy access from Seoul’s capital.

“The finish areas of the venues are very close to the ski resort,” he said. “So we think we can create the Olympic atmosphere there, and the Seoul metropolitan area, with 25 million, will be one hour away by the high-speed railway and one and a half hours by car on the new expressway.”

Atmosphere was not Sochi’s strength, though it does deserve plenty of credit. Its venues were generally eye-catching and innovative. Its security plan — the most important element based on established threats — clearly worked and was not overly intrusive. Its young cadre of volunteers kept smiling and hustling throughout (and were still smiling Monday). Its transport system worked better than any other in recent memory at a Winter Olympics, in part because the transit times were short and the transits uncomplicated.

Enthusiasm, as is typical, snowballed as the finish line loomed, helped along by Russia’s surprisingly strong performance, which led to a finish atop the medal table for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s 13 gold medals and 33 total medals were no coincidence but rather a result of a well-organized and well-financed plan that made use of both foreign and Russian coaching talent.

The Russian medalists were a mix of homegrown stars (the teenage figure skaters Adelina Sotnikova and Yulia Lipnitskaya), veteran leaders (the bobsled pilot Alexander Zubkov and the figure skater Evgeni Plushenko) and unlikely imports (the former American snowboarder Vic Wild and the former South Korean short-track speedskater Viktor Ahn).

Such changes in allegiance generated resentment in South Korea in the case of Ahn and some grousing on social media in the United States in the case of Wild.

But both men became Russians only after suffering slights in their own nations, and there was a swing-of-the-pendulum feel to their medals given how much brain and brawn drain Russia has sustained in sport in the last 20 tumultuous years. To cite just one example, the first American Olympic gold medalists in ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, have long been coached by Russian immigrants.

The Russian team’s success in Sochi almost compensated for the men’s hockey team’s absence from the medal round.

But there was still a lack of vibrancy and Olympic-worthy ambience in many venues, particularly those in the mountains, and also a lack of a true gathering point there for communion and celebration. Alpine skiing is not a traditional focal point for Russia, and it often felt that way in Rosa Khutor.

Down below, by the Black Sea, the ambience in the Winter Olympic Park ranged from festive and raucous to sterile and empty enough to give one a strong sense of what this vast, resolutely heterogeneous complex could look like if the legacy plan is not expertly and creatively managed.

Rarely has an Olympic site looked more like an ideal habitat for white elephants, but then Sochi and the Russians surprised us this time on a very tight deadline, so perhaps they will surprise us again seven more years down the road.

As future Olympics approach, the I.O.C. needs to reconsider whether it truly wants to raise the sociopolitical bar to hosting the Games: creating even clearer language about discrimination or freedoms or transparency.

But after all the effort, most of it not by Vladimir V. Putin, it seemed churlish to emphasize the negative Sunday night as the athletes and officials and even a few fans streamed out of the gold medal hockey game onto the new esplanade to snap photos of the sun setting over the Black Sea.

There was a Russian girl, no more than 8, wrapped tightly in a Canadian flag. There were young Russian women with Canadian flags painted on one cheek and Swedish flags on the other. Everywhere there were people laughing, posing, enjoying (and smoking).

The palm trees by the shore were soon silhouetted against an orange sky, underscoring once more that this was an outside-the-box Winter Olympics. It was also a polarizing Winter Olympics: one that like a classic Russian novel was brimming with darkness and light and all the shades in between.

Next fascinating subject: Pyeongchang. Don’t forget to bring a warmer jacket.

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