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Pyeongchang Olympic organizers downplay North Korea concerns

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organising Committee for the 2018 Winter Olympics, speaks during a news conference at the Olympic Academy in ancient Olympia, southwestern Greece, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

South Korea's Olympic organizers played down concern over ongoing tensions with North Korea on Monday and also said that work has been completed on all venues for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang organizing committee, said the International Olympic Committee has made it very clear that the Feb. 9-25 games will go ahead as scheduled.

"There is no Plan B," Lee said, speaking at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics shortly after the last rehearsal for Tuesday's official flame-lighting ceremony.

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"We know that the world is watching the current geopolitical situation on the Korean peninsula," he said. "We continue to work very closely with all the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure we can deliver a safe and secure games for everyone involved."

Lee said that all competition and non-competition venues are complete. He said infrastructure works, including high-speed rail and highways, are already done and will be fully operational by December.

Lee added that his main concern for the games is the weather, and told The Associated Press that artificial snow will be provided if needed.

In the rehearsal among the ruined temples and sports facilities of Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, a Greek actress playing the part of an ancient priestess offered a token prayer to the old pagan gods of the site.

It was the traditional appeal for fire from heaven to light the Olympic flame, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun's rays on her torch.

For a few fraught minutes, it looked as if Apollo and Zeus would not oblige. The priestess shifted position, walked around the mirror and tried again. On the third attempt, the sun slipped out from behind clouds for long enough to light the torch, which will serve as a back-up if Tuesday's ceremony is overcast, as forecast.

Lee was delighted, saying that Pyeongchang also won the games on its third bid, and said he isn't really concerned whether it rains Tuesday.

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"Lighting the torch is important, the date is not so much important," he said.

Tuesday's first torchbearer will be Greek skier Apostolos Aggelis. He will then pass the torch to former Manchester United soccer player Park Ji-sung, a South Korean. The flame will be carried around Greece before reaching South Korea on Nov. 1.

The South Korean leg of the relay will involve 7,500 torch-bearers, who will cover a total 2,018 kilometres.

Lee said that the torch relay and accompanying events should help boost ticket sales. He said that about 30 per cent of tickets have been sold domestically, and international sales are at about 50 per cent of the target.

"We will be able to achieve full stadia," Lee said. "Koreans are late decision-makers."

Athlete pay raise shows Canada ‘has our back’: Olympian Erica Wiebe (The Canadian Press)
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