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Pyeongchang 2018: Six Things You May Not Know About the Winter Olympics

© AP Photo / Lee Jin-manIn this Feb. 3, 2017 photo, a man walks by the Olympic rings with a sign of 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea
In this Feb. 3, 2017 photo, a man walks by the Olympic rings with a sign of 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea - Sputnik International
How much do you know about the Winter Olympics, which kick off in South Korea on Friday? Sputnik looks back at the history of the winter games and finds some interesting nuggets buried amid the snow.

The 2018 Winter Olympics begins in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Friday, February 9.

The venue is a ski resort in the Taebaek mountains, 80 miles east of the capital Seoul and about 60 miles from the border with North Korea.

Sputnik takes a look at the history of the Winter Olympics and turns up some interesting facts.

1 Ice Hockey Was Originally Played in the Summer

The modern Olympic Games were launched in 1896 in Athens, centuries after the original Olympiad which had been contested in ancient Greece.

But it took another 28 years before somebody came up with the idea of having a separate Winter Olympics containing sports like skiing, figure skating, bobsleigh and ice hockey.

There was resistance at first from Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, who wanted to the Nordic Games to remain the pre-eminent winter sports tournament.

At the 1908 Olympics in London — staged in and around the White City stadium — figure skating made its debut, although the event was not held until October, three months after the rest of the games had concluded.   

Then in 1920 ice hockey was introduced at the Antwerp Games and Canada left Belgium with the first of many gold medals in the sport.

The first Winter Olympics was in Chamonix in the French Alps in January 1924 and was a big success.

In fact so much of a success that Swedish fears were proved right with the 1926 Nordic Games turning out to be the last one of its kind as the Winter Olympics took over.

2 The Greatest Ever Winter Olympian: ‘The Cannibal'

Ask most people who they would consider to be the world's greatest Olympian and they will probably give you the name of someone who has appeared in the summer Games — Jesse Owens, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Steve Redgrave or maybe Fanny Blankers-Koen or Paavo Nurmi.

They are unlikely to say "Ole Einar Bjoerndalen."

But the Norwegian won a total of 13 medals in the biathlon — a discipline which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting — and is undoubtedly the greatest Winter Olympian of them all.

Bjoerndalen, nicknamed "The Cannibal", appeared in every winter games between 1994 and 2014, winning eight golds, four silvers and a bronze.

He was something of a late bloomer, winning no medals in 1994, when he was 20, but gaining his 12th and 13th medals in Sochi in 2014, when he had just turned 40.

3 Salt Lake City 2002 — The Scandal Games

For many years the Winter Olympics passed by without creating too many headlines — the Jamaican bobsleigh team's debut in 1988 was turned into the Hollywood film Cool Runnings and in 1994 US ice skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by an assailant on the orders of rival Tonya Harding's husband in order to keep her out of the Lillehammer games.

But the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 was in a class of its own when it comes to scandal.

In fact it was long before the opening ceremony in Utah that the stench of corruption began to waft across the world.

In 1999 six members of the International Olympic Committee were expelled for accepting cash, gifts, travel and medical care from the US team bidding for Salt Lake City to host the prestigious games and another four resigned.

A TV station in Salt Lake City also obtained a leaked document which revealed the city's Olympic bid team had even set up a college scholarship fund for relatives of IOC members.

The 2002 Games itself was also marred by controversy with a French judge, Marie Reine Le Gougne, admitting she had bowed to pressure from the French Olympic federation and deliberately voted for a Russian pair in the figure skating, denying gold to Canada's Jamie Salé and David Pelletier.

4 Sochi Was The Biggest and Most Expensive Olympics Ever

The Olympic bidding process was reformed after the Salt Lake City fiasco so there was no suggestion the Russian city of Sochi won the bid to host the games in 2014 unfairly.

But what Sochi saved in bribes, the organizers spent on the event itself.

The 2014 Winter Olympics reportedly cost US$50 billion, more than any other Olympiad, including summer games.

A lot of the money went on building a 30-mile long road between Sochi and the mountain resort of Polyana, where skiing and snowboarding events were held.

Large sums were also spent on security as Daesh was on the rise at the time, conquering large areas of Syria and Iraq, and Russia had also suffered terrorist attacks in Volgograd in December 2013.

But when the games concluded journalists were queuing up to praise the event.

"Often weird, often wonderful and always endlessly fascinating, the XXII Winter Games, the most expensive and ambitious of all Olympics, concluded here in Sochi last night with Russians glowing with pride… Why wouldn't they? The hosts had staged an event of extraordinary magnitude and complexity and pulled it off," wrote the Daily Telegraph's Ian Chadband.

5 Asia Now Has A Monopoly On The Olympics Until 2022

South Korea has hosted a summer Olympics before — in 1988, when Roy Jones, who would later become one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, was cheated of the gold medal by the biggest "homer" of all time.

Jones landed 86 punches to 32 landed by South Korea's Park Si-hun, who also took two standing eight counts and was twice warned by the referee, but Park was awarded the bout by judges who were anxious to please the Korean crowd.

This may be South Korea's first Winter Olympics but it is not the first time Asia has staged the event.

Japan hosted the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, on its northernmost island, Hokkaido, in 1972 and was awarded the event again in 1998, this time in Nagano.

In 2011 Pyeongchang was chosen to host, with 63 votes, ahead of 25 for Munich and seven for Annecy in France.

Strangely the next summer Olympics is also in Asia — Tokyo in 2020 — as is the next winter Olympics.

Beijing will host in 2022, after narrowly beating off a challenge from Almaty in Kazakhstan by 44 votes to 40.

6: Show Of Unity From South And North Korea

Recent years have been troubling times on the Korean peninsula with new US President Donald Trump at times seeming to be trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong-un into a nuclear confrontation.

But the local rhetoric between Seoul and Pyongyang has been turned down a little since South Korea's President Moon Jae-in was elected in May last year.

Now the Winter Olympics has produced an opportunity for a rare show of unity between Koreans.

There will be a single team representing "Korea" in several sports.

The joint North and South Korean women's ice hockey team played its first friendly match earlier this week, losing 3-1 to Sweden, but they will get another bite at the cherry on Friday when they take on the same opponents for real.

The combined ice hockey team was formed after the two Koreas reached a controversial deal to compete under the same flag.

Reporters said the crowd watching the joint Korea team went wild, although there had been a small protest against North Korea outside the arena.

The team's Canadian coach, Sarah Murray, said that although Korean was the common language there were some linguistic problems between players from different sides of the border.

"In North Korean, there are no English words so everything is totally different. So we actually made like a dictionary, English to Korean to North Korean. So we can communicate and hopefully learn how to speak each other's languages," said Ms. Murray.

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