Sports Festival and Cultural Olympics “Gangwon 2024” Shines with Global Youth

Date Feb 01, 2024

- A total of 500,000 people watched “Gangwon 2024,” concluding its journey with the closing ceremony at Gangneung Olympic Park on Feb 1

- A total of 1,800 athletes from 78 countries worldwide fostered the spirit of sports and shared friendship

- Minister YU In Chon expressed gratitude to “all volunteers and stakeholders dedicated to the success of the event”


The “Gangwon 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games (Gangwon 2024)” wrapped up its 14-day journey with the closing ceremony held at the outdoor stage of Gangneung Olympic Park, Gangwon State on February 1 (Thur) at 7:30 p.m. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (Minister YU In Chon, MCST) collaborated closely with the “Gangwon 2024” Organizing Committee, Gangwon State, the event’s operational team, and volunteers to ensure a successful event.


From January 19 (Fri) to February 1 (Thur), “Gangwon 2024” turned Gangwon State into a global stage, hosting events across Gangneung, Pyeongchang, Jeongseon, and Hoengseong. This competition, marking the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Asia and the second Olympic Games in Gangwon State using the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games (PyeongChang 2018) facilities, saw participation from 1,800 athletes across 78 countries, cultivating a spirit of unity and friendship.


“Gangwon 2024”: A Generational Festival That Captivated Half a Million


“Gangwon 2024” shattered expectations, drawing in 500,000 attendees across generations and proving its universal appeal beyond just the youth. Contrary to initial concerns over potential disinterest because of its youth focus and the risk of no-shows from free admission, the event was a blockbuster hit. On January 27 and 28, when the figure skating competition began, more than 120,000 spectators showed up, demonstrating an enthusiasm comparable to that of the adult Olympics. Even less familiar sports to Koreans, such as ice hockey, along with favorites such as short-track speed skating and long-track speed skating, consistently sold out, expanding winter sports’ popularity.


Setting a Global Standard in Sports Event Management; Immediate Response to Early Adversities such as Norovirus, Cold Waves, and Heavy Snowfall


“Gangwon 2024” is seen to be the new benchmark for handling international sports events, effectively preventing outbreaks of norovirus and influenza. Despite three reported cases of norovirus just before the start of the competition, a thorough investigation of all food materials was conducted with the cooperation of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), and guidelines for responding to suspected infectious diseases were distributed, preventing an outbreak during the event.


Moreover, facing early setbacks on January 20, such as heavy snowfall warnings in the Gangwon State area, the MCST worked closely with the organizing committee and local governments, quickly requesting snow removal personnel from the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to clear the spectator areas, demonstrating exemplary crisis management. Ultimately, the collaborative preparation of the MCST, the organizing committee, and Gangwon State since the early stages played a significant role in its success.


South Korea’s Winter Sports Shine with New Talents: JOO Jae Hee, SO Jae Hwan, LEE Cha Eun, LEE Yoon Seung, and KIM Hyun Gyeom


Facilities of “Gangwon 2024,” including the stadiums used during “PyeongChang 2018,” the athletes’ village, and the media center, provided the best competition environment, earning high praise from participating teams and domestic and international media, and contributed to the emergence of new winter sports stars.

South Korea’s youth team[1], including JOO Jae Hee in short-track speed skating, SO Jae Hwan in bobsleigh, LEE Cha Eun in snowboarding, LEE Yoon Seung in skiing, and KIM Hyun Gyeom in figure skating, demonstrated South Korea’s bright future in winter sports by clinching gold medals. In particular, LEE Yoon Seung emerged as a multi-medalist by winning gold following silver in the freestyle ski moguls, a less popular sport in Korea. Meanwhile, KIM Hyun Gyeom made history as the first male figure skater to win gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, signaling the emergence of a new star. The success across both popular winter sports on ice, such as short-track speed skating and long-track speed skating, and emerging winter sports on snow, which are traditionally less successful in Korea, underlines the promising horizon for South Korean winter athletics.


Realizing PyeongChang 2018’s Legacy and Shaping Global Winter Sports History


When bidding for “PyeongChang 2018,” South Korea presented a vision of a “New Horizon” to expand winter sports to more regions worldwide. The MCST and the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation strived to continue the vision and legacy of “Pyeongchang 2018,” and “Gangwon 2024” celebrated its fulfillment.


The MCST, along with the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation and Gangwon State supported preseason training in Gangwon for young athletes from countries where winter sports development is challenging or participation in winter sports competitions is difficult. The 25 athletes from 9 countries who participated in this project also took part in “Gangwon 2024.” Algeria, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates made their debut in the Winter Olympics through this competition. Tunisian bobsleigh athlete Jonathan Lourimi won silver in men’s monobob, making history for his country’s Olympic record. Thailand’s Kampeol Agnes finished second in women’s monobob, securing Thailand’s first-ever Winter Olympics medal. This event, dubbed “Cool Runnings 2024,” deeply moved many people, and both local and international media praised the realization of “PyeongChang 2018’s” vision of a “New Horizon” after six years.


“Gangwon 2024” also rewrote the winter sports history of various countries. Danish athlete Maya Voigt won gold in women’s monobob, marking Denmark’s first-ever Winter Olympics gold. Turkish athlete Muhammed Bozdag also won silver in the men’s 1,000 m short track, bringing home Turkey’s first medal in the history of the Winter Youth Olympic Games.


Early Resolution of Complaints, and Active Encouragement for Volunteers, the Heroes behind the Success of Gangwon 2024


The true champions behind the success of “Gangwon 2024” were its volunteers. MCST Minister YU In Chon, along with First Vice Minister JEON Byung Geuk and Second Vice Minister JANG Mi Ran, visited the site to encourage the volunteers, who, despite the cold weather, were dedicated to the operation of the event and the comfort of the spectators. They expressed their gratitude by personally delivering cakes and gifts to volunteers celebrating their birthdays during the event.


The attrition rate of volunteers for “Gangwon 2024” was notably low at 8%, thanks to the Ministry and the organizing committee establishing a complaint response system, assigning dedicated staff to quickly resolve any issues, operating a unified call center, and making efforts to communicate on-site. The stability in volunteer participation post-opening ceremony proved to be a solid foundation for the success of “Gangwon 2024.”


A Fusion of Sports and K-Culture, Championing a Digitalized Winter Youth Olympic Games


Gangwon 2024 transcended a mere sports event by incorporating K-culture with sports, embodying a sports festival and a Cultural Olympics. The opening ceremony, held simultaneously at the Gangneung Oval and the Pyeongchang Dome on January 19, celebrated with laser art, K-pop, and dance and spotlighted the inherent value and interconnectedness of all individuals, receiving accolades from both spectators and media worldwide.


During the event, various cultural events across the four host cities and counties offered domestic and international visitors the essence and joy of K-culture. Performances by leading national art groups such as the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, Korea National Symphony Orchestra, and Korean National Ballet, along with seaside galleries and exhibitions of Gangwon’s cultural heritage, were available for enjoyment. K-culture festivals on January 27 and 28 in Pyeongchang and Gangneung further heated up the event’s atmosphere. Five festival sites across the four host locations offered diverse performances, exhibitions, and traditional cultural experience events, providing fun memories and new experiences for the youth.


As such, “Gangwon 2024” was recognized as the most digitalized Winter Youth Olympic Games in history. True to South Korea’s status as a digital powerhouse, the opening ceremony introduced the world’s first “digital cauldron” and showcased the “Metaverse Olympics.”


Moreover, “Gangwon 2024” maximized the use of PyeongChang 2018’s sports facilities, continuing the Olympic legacy. The MCST plans to explore post-event use for facilities operated by Gangwon State, such as the Gangneung Oval, Hockey Center, and Alpensia Sliding Centre, and support various facility utilization projects that can spread Olympic values.


Minister YU stated, “The youth participating in Gangwon 2024 created unforgettable memories through exchanges with young people from various countries and ethnicities,” expressing gratitude toward “volunteers and operational staff for their dedication that led to the event’s successful conclusion with national support.”

[1] The South Korean team won a total of 15 medals, including 5 gold, 6 silver, and 4 bronze (as of January 31, 2024).