USA talks up Pyeongchang over threats, distractions
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[November 02, 2017]
By Dan Burns
NEW YORK (Reuters) - So far next year's
Winter Olympics have kicked up more buzz about the threat of flying
missiles than athletic excellence and U.S. Olympic officials sought
to put the focus back on the sport at a 100-day countdown in Times
Square on Wednesday.
Hours after the Olympic flame arrived in South Korea on its way to
Pyeongchang, around 40 past and prospective Olympians - including
gold medal-winning downhill skier Lindsey Vonn - were on hand to
mingle with fans and the media.
Security was understandably high only a day after a 29-year-old
Uzbek immigrant mowed down pedestrians on a bike path in Manhattan,
killing eight people and injuring more than a dozen others.
United State Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun and
the athletes, though, were more concerned with downplaying the risks
of a Games that will take place roughly 70 miles (84 km) from the
border with North Korea.
"The opportunities like this to hang out with these men and women
more than offsets all the logistical challenges," Blackmun said.
"Sochi had challenges. Rio had challenges. London had challenges.
Whether Pyeongchang is more or less (of a challenge) is really not
the question for us. It's 'Are we preparing our athletes to the
greatest extent possible?'."
Threats and insults exchanged between U.S. President Donald Trump
and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un in recent months have heightened
tensions on the peninsula but the team had received no new guidance
on security or travel restrictions from the U.S. State Department,
Blackmun also said that Pyeongchang-bound U.S. athletes would face
no new guidance on what they could do when not competing, despite
embarrassing behavior by swimmer Ryan Lochte and some of his team
mates at the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.
Although Team USA would always prefer athletes remained inside the
secure areas of the venues and Olympic Village as much as possible,
Blackmun accepted that there would be times when they would "leave
"We just ask that they carry their cell phones and stay in touch and
make sure their team knows where they're going to be if they get
outside of the system," he said.
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Olympians hold a flag up as they take part in an event in Times
Square to celebrate 100 days from the start of the PyeongChang 2018
Olympic Games in South Korea, in New York, U.S., November 1, 2017.
Blackmun declined to say whether he expected to top the 28 medals,
including nine golds, captured by U.S. athletes in 2014 in Sochi.
"We have athletes that we think can do pretty well ... but we don't
talk about medal count," he added.
According to a forecast from Gracenote, a unit of media ratings
tracker Nielsen Holdings Plc, the U.S. should take home 29 medals
from Pyeongchang, comprising 10 golds, seven silvers and a dozen
Gracenote does not forecast a U.S. medal in men's ice hockey, which
is typically one of the marquee events of the Games but diminished
this time with no NHL players participating for the first time in 24
"I like our chances," countered Brian Gionta, who has recently
retired after 15 years as a forward in the NHL.
"I think we're all pretty much in the same boat."
The women's ice hockey team is looking for gold for the first time
since the event's debut in 1998 with Canada having won all four
"It's been 20 years since we won a gold medal, and that's our main
focus right now," said forward Hilary Knight, who owns two Olympic
"It's gold or bust."
The Winter Olympics take place from Feb. 9-25 next year.
(Reporting by Dan Burns, editing by Nick Mulvenney)
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