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Olympic fever grips Koreans

Leaders of Flushing’s large Korean-American population were elated and surprised to hear last week that the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in their home country, saying they believe it will be a boon not only to those who live in South Korea, but also to all their compatriots in Queens and around the globe.

The announcement was a welcome shock as it marked the first time since 1995 that the International Olympic Committee chose a winner from a list of multiple potential Winter Games sites in the first round of consideration.

Pyeongchang, South Korea, located in a mountainous region of the Gangwon province, is the most popular snow sports destination in South Korea and was a leading contender in the 2010 and 2014 Olympic site races. But it lost both times, making the victory this time around even sweeter for Koreans.

The 2018 Games will be only the third Winter Olympics to be held in Asia following Japan’s 1972 and 1998 games.

Sunny Hahn, a Flushing resident, self-described longtime “community activist who happens to be Korean American” ´╗┐and senior adviser to the Korean-American Association of Queens, lauded the announcement but said it was not really expected.

“I’m surprised by the fact that they actually won because the Winter Olympics is more or less elite sports, but maybe it’s about time,” she said. “I remember Japan hosted the Winter Olympics years ago, so now it’s a matter of time that Korea follows in their footsteps. I think Korea is maybe making progress faster than people may have expected.”

Terence Park, the Korean-American president of the Our Flushing Political Coalition and a well-established community leader and politician in the area, said the Olympics will be a major boost for Koreans who call the United States home.

“We have about 2 million Korean Americans living in the United States involved in all kinds of business and all parts of our community across the nation, and it will be a plus for all Korean Americans,” Park said. “It will help Korean Americans in many ways: It will help us economically and boost our standing in the world, which will help Koreans in South Korea and in America.”

Hahn agreed with Park, saying the benefits the games bring to South Korea will have positive residual effects among the 64,107 Korean Americans in Flushing, as well as for people of Korean descent living in other countries.

“Whatever good happens to motherland Korea, any Koreans abroad at least will be thrilled and happy, so that’s an intangible benefit. As far as real benefit, Korea will reap economic benefits and it’s another jump in status for the Korean community and the Korean people,” she said. “If the country is doing well, indirectly and directly their members abroad will benefit.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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