In cold, poor South Korean mountains, Winter Olympics begin

President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach takes, right, and United Nations President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lacjak take part in the Pyeongchang 2018 Torch Relay ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. (AP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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In cold, poor South Korean mountains, Winter Olympics begin

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea: The world starts watching now. At least, when it comes to sports.
After two failed bids, billions of dollars in preparation and a nagging national debate about whether it’s all worth it, the Winter Olympics open Friday in Pyeongchang with a gala ceremony meant to showcase South Korea’s rise from poverty and war into one of Asia’s most modern nations.
The isolated, rugged mountain town of Pyeongchang, one of the poorest, coldest and most disgruntled parts of an otherwise prosperous South Korea, will be a global player for two weeks of winter sports, Olympic spectacle and, just maybe, a bit of inter-Korean reconciliation.
There will be plenty of sporting drama for both die-hard snow and ice junkies and the once-every-four-years enthusiast.
Will the Russians who aren’t Russians — the 168 who have been invited as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” competing in neutral uniforms under the Olympic flag — bring home gold? Will Patrick Chan of Canada hit his quad jumps and claim figure skating glory?
Can reigning men’s gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan overcome injury and defend his title against Chan? Will the past and present star of American skiing, Lindsey Vonn, be surpassed by the likely future of the sport, Mikaela Shiffrin?
But the athletic aspect of these games has been overshadowed in the buildup to the opening ceremony by a frenzied, increasingly momentous fire-hose spray of political developments. The rival Koreas, flirting with war just weeks ago, are suddenly making overtures toward the no-longer-quite-so-absurd notion of cooperation.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s sister, making an unprecedented visit to South Korean soil, will now likely attend the same opening ceremony as US Vice President Mike Pence, who’s vowing toughest-ever sanctions on the North. Could they meet? That and other theories have engulfed South Korean media.
Pyeongchang was not supposed to share the spotlight with Pyongyang. This was not supposed to be, as some in Seoul grumble, the “Pyongyang Games,” a play on the North Korean capital’s phonetic similarity to Pyeongchang.
After two failed Olympic bids that emphasized the high-sounding notion that the games could help make peace with North Korea, Pyeongchang finally sold its successful try in 2011 on the decidedly capitalistic goal of boosting winter sports tourism in Asia.
But North Korea has a habit of not letting itself be ignored when it comes to its southern rival.
Its agents blew up a South Korean airliner ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics in an attempt to dissuade visitors; then it boycotted its rival’s Olympic debut on the world stage. A few years later, the discovery of the huge progress Pyongyang had been surreptitiously making on its nuclear programs plunged the Korean Peninsula into crisis. It has only deepened over the years as the North closes in on the ability to field an arsenal of nukes that can hit US cities.
And so, with a little help from a liberal South Korean president eager to engage Pyongyang, the 2018 Pyeongchang Games open.
They do so with as much focus on the North, which has zero real medal contenders, as the South, which in the three decades since its last Olympics has built a solid winter program as it went from economic backwater and military dictatorship to Asia’s fourth-biggest economy and a bulwark of liberal democracy.
Could Pyeongchang’s initial pitch — that it could contribute to peace on the Korean Peninsula — actually become reality? The opening ceremony will offer at least some hints about that, and maybe more. What’s certain is that these Games, more so than any in recent memory, are about far more than sports.


Manchester United to pursue West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic

Updated 24 May 2018
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Manchester United to pursue West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic

  • The Austria international scored 11 league goals at West Ham United last season
  • Sources close to the United manager said Arnautovic, 29, has impressed Mourinho

MANCHESTER: Jose Mourinho would like to bring Marko Arnautovic to Manchester United as he seeks to strengthen the English Premier League club's attack in the summer transfer window, Arab News has learned.
The Austria international — scorer of 11 league goals at West Ham United last season — is one of several options to add aggression, height and technical ability to United's squad for a campaign in which Mourinho will be under intense external pressure to bring the title back to Old Trafford.
Sources close to the United manager said Arnautovic, 29, has impressed Mourinho during a campaign in which he often operated as a solo striker.
With his ability to both create and convert chances, receive and hold the ball for team-mates, and play centrally or off either wing, the 1 meter 93 cm forward would offer a range of tactical options — either alongside Romelu Lukaku, or as cover for the only center-forward in United's current squad comfortable playing with his back to goal.
Mourinho is also conscious of United's struggle to present Marouane Fellaini with a contract offer that meets the Belgium midfielder's financial demands.
On the assumption that Fellaini is prepared to leave as a free agent, Mourinho wants to add a player with the aerial ability to bolster United's attacking and defensive options as and when the game situation requires it.
Brought to the Premier League in 2013 by Stoke City, Arnautovic knows the division well and has Champions League experience from his time at Wolfsburg. The Austrian is also familiar with Mourinho's training and tactical methods, having spent the 2009/10 season working with him at Inter Milan.
Recruited from Stoke for a guaranteed transfer fee of £20 million ($26 million) last summer, Arnautovic is contracted to West Ham for four more years. With the London club's co-owners the subjects of supporter protests, to which they responded with this week's high-cost appointment of Manuel Pellegrini as manager, recruiting the club's Player of the Year will not be an easy task.
Sources familiar with United's recruitment plans have told Arab News that Mourinho is also considering alternative signings.
One option would be a move for Mario Mandzukic, the Croatia international who can play all across attack and may be made available as part of an aggressive close-season rebuild requested by Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri.
In principle, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would be a more direct replacement for Fellaini as the Serbia international has established his reputation in Serie A as a midfielder. Lazio, however, are asking €100 million ($117 million) for the 23-year-old, which United consider too steep an asking price for a player they have some reservations over.
Mourinho's preferred option as a new starting midfielder is Fred, the Brazil international who wants to move to the Premier League and whom United first attempted to sign from Shakhtar Donetsk last year.
Shakhtar rejected an offer of €50 million for the 25-year-old in the January window with both Manchester City and United in pursuit of the Brazilian, according to a source familiar with those negotiations.
While open to the player's sale this summer, the Ukrainian champions have so far insisted that a €60 million release clause is paid in full.