Excuse the mixed sports metaphors, but the Olympic Games decision was starting to look an awful lot like a baseball game. South Korea had tried twice before to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they could host the games. They were about to strike out a third time on the bid to bring them home to Pyeongchang in 2018. Thank goodness those crafty Koreans have a secret weapon to help them win their bid.
Fans of the Winter Games couldn't forget Kim Yu-na, the figure skating gold medalist who broke records in Vancouver last year. South Korea's first-ever figure skating champ in the Olympics set world records with her scores, re-igniting interest in the sport as a whole and her country's athletes. And she was ready and willing to remind the IOC that South Korea had its best over showing in Vancouver.
Her appearance in Lausanne, Switzerland to brief the IOC was dubbed the Kim Yu-na effect and helped secure the bid for her country. So why did this one woman matter so much, especially considering Germany sent its own skating star, Katerina Witt, who is internationally known, to represent their efforts to bring home the games ... to no avail?
Maybe because Kim Yu-na is more like a LeBron James or a Derek Jeter in her home country. Here figure skaters are popular during the Olympics, then their names drop out of the press. In South Korea, Yu-na hosts her own reality show and sings its theme song (proceeds from sales of the song go to help promote figure skating). She's closing in on half a million Facebook fans and has lucrative endorsement deals with Samsung and Hyundai that include a phone named FOR her. Coming out of the 2010 Winter Games, she was the best paid Olympian. Period.
And every time she campaigned for Pyeongchang, Kim Yu-na was carrying all that attention with her to the Olympic Committee, and making their choice more stressful. They'd said no twice over to South Korea -- handing the 2010 and 2014 Games to Vancouver and Sochi (Russia) -- doing it again meant dealing with Yu-na's entire fan base. And then there's the flip side -- by saying yes, they have a big win out of the way in terms of promoting the 2018 Games. Her fanship and sponsorships do it for them.
Can you really blame the IOC for being swayed by the possibility of all that Kim Yu-na attention going the way of the games?
Image via david_shankbone/Flickr