PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Fighter jets streaked over the mountains that winter day. The snowboarders recall them roaring previous each 15 minutes or so.
Most of the prime names in snowboard cross racing had gathered in Pyeongchang in early 2016 to check the course that may later be used for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
In some unspecified time in the future, after the jets zoomed previous but once more, American boarder Nate Holland turned to his teammate, Seth Wescott.
“Dude, I simply need you to know I really like you,” he recollects saying. “Like, if this journeys off proper now, we’re in a horrible spot.”
Barely 50 miles separate Pyeongchang’s mountain venues from the Demilitarized Zone, a swath of land that for many years has offered a tenuous buffer between North and South Korea. This proximity places the Video games on the heart of a nuclear face-off.
However the political local weather right here — in contrast to the frigid climate — has warmed in current weeks.
North Korea has agreed to take part within the Olympics, sending a contingent of 22 athletes throughout the border. On the similar time, indignant rhetoric has eased between the nation’s chief, Kim Jong Un, and President Trump.
With hundreds of South Korean nationwide police saturating the Pyeongchang space, officers standing on avenue corners in brilliant yellow coats, the query is: Do these Video games nonetheless pose a safety danger? And in that case, what’s the largest potential menace?
“The Video games are just like the Tremendous Bowl in a method,” says Steven Weber, a College of California professor who research worldwide politics. “They may all the time be a goal.”
The specter of violence has shadowed this worldwide sporting occasion for the reason that “Munich Bloodbath” of 1972, when Palestinian gunmen stormed the Israeli staff’s residing quarters in an assault that finally left 11 hostages and a German police officer useless.
Extra not too long ago, London went on alert in the course of the 2012 Summer season Olympics and a Chechen insurgent chief known as for militants to “do their utmost to derail” the 2014 Winter Video games in Sochi, Russia.
Each competitions went off safely, however when athletes and followers arrived on the 2016 Summer season Video games in Rio de Janeiro, they confronted a special kind of fear — the Zika virus outbreak.
“Nearly each Olympics has some form of scandal or safety menace or one thing that everyone’s speaking about,” veteran luger Erin Hamlin mentioned. “So I’ve been by way of it earlier than.”
Tensions on the Korean peninsula started to ease on New Yr’s Day when Kim made a public overture that was well-received by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Final-minute negotiations led to deal by which North Korea will compete in a number of sports activities and march with South Korea on the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
All of this was welcome information for IOC President Thomas Bach, who spoke at a Sunday information convention concerning the “optimistic messages” he has acquired from each governments.
“We’re very pleased with the event on this entrance,” he mentioned.
Not that the whole lot has gone easily.
There was backlash within the South, the place a lot of the inhabitants stays distrustful of Kim and protestors not too long ago burned his picture within the streets. North Korea canceled a joint cultural occasion and adjusted the date of a navy parade in its capital, Pyongyang, to the day earlier than the Video games start.
“There isn’t a pretending that’s a coincidence,” mentioned Tim Powdrill, an assoc. director with Threat Advisory, a London-based secruity administration group. “It hints on the underlying fragility of the method.”
The neighboring nations have a historical past of violence round main sporting occasions.
Earlier than the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the downing of Korean Air Flight 858 was attributed to North Korean brokers. In the course of the 2002 World Cup, a naval conflict between the nations resulted in quite a few deaths.
Consultants don’t foresee that diploma of bother in the course of the upcoming Video games. Even a missile take a look at by North Korea appears much less possible than it did a month in the past.
“That might make headlines, occurring simply 100 miles from the place the Video games are going down,” Weber mentioned. “However there have been indications that North Korea has backed off and it wouldn’t shock me if some quiet bargains had been made.”
The extra possible menace comes from a well-recognized supply – terrorism.
“South Korea is in part of the world the place you will have ISIS and Al Queda spinoffs within the Philippines and Indonesia,” Weber mentioned. “It’s not an remoted, protected place.”
With an estimated 1 million followers visiting the area, the Video games current a high-profile goal. With almost three,000 athletes from greater than 90 nations anticipated to compete at a dozen venues, they are often tough to safeguard.
South Korea’s nationwide police power mentioned it should deploy as many as 13,000 officers to enhance native legislation enforcement and is working with the FBI and Interpol to observe potential terrorist threats.
U.S. Forces Korea has 28,000 troops within the nation that could possibly be known as upon in a disaster. The State Division has despatched an extra 100 diplomattic safety officers to guard People right here.
Steve Goldstein, the below secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, mentioned the U.S. stays “very assured that South Korea goes to be placing on a contented, profitable and powerful Winter Video games.”
U.S. Olympic Committee officers expressed comparable religion within the host nation, seeming extra comfy than they had been earlier than Rio, the place avenue crime was a priority.
Requested about larger-scale threats, USOC chief govt Scott Blackmun mentioned not too long ago: “Ought to the unthinkable occur and there’s battle between the nations, that’s not a difficulty for the U.S. Olympic Committee to become involved in.”
Members of the U.S. staff echo that perspective.
Athletes are likely to shrug off any point out of danger on the Video games, preferring to remain centered on their efficiency and the dream of successful gold.
“I simply am just about counting on safety to be at its finest,” mentioned Jessica Kooreman, a brief monitor speedskater. “Hopefully I’m going to be there and may say that I’m having fun with my time in Korea.”
Kooreman recollects feeling protected in Sochi, the place two warships anchored simply off the coast. However this time feels a bit completely different.
Bobsledder Steve Langton spoke together with his mother and father about whether or not they need to attend the Video games. Snowboarder Ryan Stassel mentioned his mom has requested a few times about safety in South Korea.
After that ski cross take a look at occasion, Holland had doubts about his spouse and younger daughter coming to Pyeongchang.
“You’ve acquired Kim Jong Un on one hand and Donald Trump, two actually level-head guys … so what might go incorrect?” he mentioned.
His spouse insisted on attending and he ultimately relented.
“I suppose if we’re taking place,” he mentioned, “we’re taking place as a household.”
(c) 2018 the Los Angeles Occasions/Distributed by Tribune Content material Company, LLC
With Helene Elliott