PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Pyeongchang's preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics are on course but South Korean organizers must step up efforts to promote the games worldwide, the head of the IOC's inspection team said Friday.
Gunilla Lindberg, head of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission for the games, said her team was satisfied with the progress they saw in their latest three-day inspection visit.
According to Pyeongchang organizers, construction is on schedule for a series of 26 test events scheduled from November to April. They said six new competition venues for the games are now 90 percent complete.
"We saw firsthand the progress of the construction projects," Lindberg said at a news conference. "There is no doubt that the venues will be ready for the upcoming test events."
"My colleagues and I leave here more confident than ever that Pyeongchang 2018 will deliver great games," she added.
The first test event will be a World Cup snowboard big air competition from Nov. 23-26. Snowboard big air will make its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Games.
A new high-speed rail line — designed to link the country's main gateway of Incheon airport with Pyeongchang in less than two hours — will be completed in June and start operations in January 2018.
Lindberg said that the biggest challenge left for Pyeongchang is promoting the Olympics across the world.
Pyeongchang, a sleepy ski resort town in South Korea's mountainous east, is a much smaller destination than Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Beijing, which will host the 2022 Winter Games.
"The biggest challenge at the moment is ... how to promote the games over the world, because this is a small place. It's not Rio de Janeiro and it's not London," said Lindberg, who added that the upcoming test events, which will be televised internationally, will be an important opportunity to promote the games and showcase the level of preparation.
Another critical issue for Pyeongchang is securing the participation of National Hockey League players. IOC negotiations with the NHL have stalled over the IOC's decision not to pay for NHL players' travel and insurance as it has in the past.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt "negative" about the chances the league's players will appear for a sixth straight Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Christophe Dubi, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, said NHL representatives have agreed to pay an inspection visit to Pyeongchang later this month, which he described as a "very positive step."
Dubi didn't offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.
"We definitely always try to have the participation of the best athletes. It is reassuring that NHL is coming to Pyeongchang and especially look at the operations in Gangneung," he said.
"When it comes to the final participation ... there is a date set at Jan. 15 to find an agreement," Dubi said. "Until then it will be work between all parties involved to make sure that we get the participation of the very best, and that's for both Pyeongchang and Beijing."
The ice hockey tournament during the Pyeongchang Olympics will take place at a stadium in the nearby city of Gangneung.
Lee Hee-beom, head of the local organizing committee, said ticket sales will be launched in conjunction with the 1-year-to-go countdown in February.