Steamboat athletes eye South Korea for 2018 games

Pyeongchang selected to host Winter Olympic Games

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— Wednesday made for another day of training on the freestyle skiing water ramp in Steamboat Springs.

For just a moment, though, attention turned from a hot summer day in Steamboat to a cold winter one on the other side of the world, seven years in the future. The International Olympic Committee voted in Durban, South Africa, to send the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The news left local athletes curious and inspired.

“It’s always been such an intangible dream, something so far away from reality,” said Steamboat’s Ryan Dyer, a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team for seven months. “But once you make the team and they announce where the next Olympics will be, you just say, ‘Wow.’

Pyeongchang was chosen after submitting serious bids for each of the past two games, losing out for the 2010 games to Vancouver, British Columbia, and the 2014 Olympics to Sochi, Russia. Persistence paid off Wednesday as the city, about 100 miles west of the South Korean capital, Seoul, and in the northwestern part of the country, was selected ahead of Munich and Annecy, France.

Details of the city’s plans include two main clusters of venues about 20 miles apart, but that doesn’t mean hopeful athletes know what to expect. Although the Winter Olympics have twice set down in Asia, South Korea will represent a whole new world to the athletes of 2018.

“It’s going to be a very different experience for everyone that goes,” Steamboat’s Taylor Fletcher said.

Fletcher made his Olympic debut in 2010 in Nordic combined and kept a close eye on the 2018 selection process. The ski jumping venue was built in 2008 and has played host to Continental Cup events but has yet to see a World Cup competition and mostly remains a mystery to the United States’ top athletes.

“Everyone that’s been there says the facilities are amazing and pretty advanced, so I’m excited,” Fletcher said. “It will be great to get that different atmosphere, to see a different culture and to spread the sport as much as possible.”

That atmosphere is what had U.S. Nordic combined coach Dave Jarrett buzzing. He said the 2002 and 2010 games — both in North America — gave U.S. athletes a distinct advantage. The World Cup circuit, meanwhile, mostly plays out in Europe, giving Europeans an advantage.

A competition in South Korea, which will force North American and European teams to travel far from home, should balance the table or benefit teams more accustomed to traveling.

“We tend to do better against the field when everyone’s in our same situation,” said Jarrett, who competed in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. “It won’t be a home game for anyone in Sochi, but it will be even less so in South Korea.”

Just who gets the chance to compete in South Korea is far from being determined or even worried about among athletes focused on 2014 in Russia.

But as of Wednesday, the location was decided, and for athletes in Steamboat Springs, that was a cool thing.

“I’m just 20 now,” Dyer said. “I feel healthy, and nothing is stopping me. I would like to still be skiing then. I would love to ski in South Korea.”

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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