Scandal overshadows SK Olympic prep

By Hyung-Jin Kim, AP

SEOUL — When Pyeongchang was awarded the 2018 Olympics six years ago, many South Koreans felt that the first Winter Games on home snow would herald their entry into the top tier of rich nations.

One year before the Olympics, however, the country is in political disarray, and winter sports are the last thing on many people’s minds. To say that South Koreans are distracted from what had been billed as a crowning sports achievement is an understatement.

After protests that saw millions take to the streets, South Korea’s president, toppled from power, languishes in her mountainside palace as a court ponders whether to approve her impeachment and trigger early elections. A toothless prime minister, thrust into leadership by the country’s biggest corruption scandal in recent memory, struggles with huge economic, social and diplomatic tensions.

And then there’s rival North Korea, which relishes the chance to insert itself into the picture — often with missile tests and threats of annihilation — whenever global attention turns to its southern rival.

This is not the atmosphere jubilant organizers thought they’d face when Pyeongchang, an alpine ski resort town of 43,000 people about 180 kilometers east of Seoul, closed in on its moment of glory.

Despite the political turmoil, the Pyeongchang Olympics will likely be well-organized and ready-to-go, especially when compared with the recent games in Rio de Janeiro and Sochi, Russia, which saw swirling human rights, environmental and political crises.

Still, the upheaval in government will likely dominate headlines throughout the year, and add to worries about Pyeongchang’s preparations, enormous costs and a lack of public buzz.

A look at some of the major issues facing the country, and the state of its Olympic dreams, a year ahead of the Pyeongchang Games, which are set for Feb. 9-25, 2018: