For a brief, fleeting moment earlier this week, attention veered sharply from the troubles plaguing Rio 2016 to Pyeongchang 2018 following the shock resignation of Organising Committee President Cho Yang-ho.
From progress to problems for organisers in an instant. All the good work that had gone before, the majority of which has been credited to Cho, was quickly placed on the backburner when the Korean Air boss confirmed his decision to stand down with immediate effect on Tuesday (May 3) in order to focus on his ailing business Hanjin Shipping, currently embroiled in a deep financial crisis.
When Cho took over the reins from Kim Jin-sun in July 2014, Pyeongchang 2018 were enjoying a time of relative serenity, with no real major doubts or concerns expressed. Despite that, Kim felt it was best if he stepped aside as he felt "new leadership was required to complete preparations for the Games".
That new leader proved to be Cho - despite declaring he would “rather contribute from the sidelines” less than a week before he was named as Kim’s replacement - and in spite of the palpable optimism surrounding the first-ever Winter Olympic Games to be held in South Korea, his initial tenure began with difficulty.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) highlighted several serious issues, most notably the lack of domestic sponsors and slow rate of progress with venue construction ahead of a busy period of test events, following a presentation made by the Organising Committee to the ruling Executive Board in early 2015.
Yet Cho was unfazed. He knuckled down, cracked the whip within Pyeongchang 2018 HQ and began to steer their ship towards calmer waters. Yes, the path was littered with hurdles many thought would simply be insurmountable, but he managed to allay concerns which had started to gather pace, stopping some of them dead in their tracks.
Slowly but surely, the Korea Table Tennis Association President hauled preparations out from the dark and into the light, signing key deals with of Korean Air, Samsung, Hyundai and SK Group as Tier One partners while also cleverly managing a dispute over the location of the Olympic Stadium.
Not only that, he oversaw the successful staging of the opening competition on the extensive test event calendar - featuring no less than 28 events in the build-up to showtime in February 2018 - which was in grave danger of being scrapped altogether.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine World Cup at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre earlier this year ticked all the right boxes, a scarcely believable outcome considering the constant unease about the readiness of the venue that had dominated the build-up to the event. Day by day, the IOC’s words of “tight deadline”, spoken by several prominent officials, rang in the ears of organisers.
The sentiments from the likes of Christophe Dubi, Executive Director for the Olympic Games, and IOC Coordination Commission Chair Gunilla Lindberg, had followed FIS President Gian-Franco Kasper claiming it would be “impossible” for test events to take place as planned. How wrong he proved to be.
Nothing proved impossible for Cho. With this in mind, his successor Lee Hee-beom has his work cut out if he is to replicate the achievements of the Korean Air chief.
It is testament to Cho’s work that the first task facing the new Organising Committee President is to ensure complacency doesn’t begin to creep in at Pyeongchang 2018, an aspect which Lindberg sternly warned them of during the most recent visit of the IOC Coordination Commission in March, following a period of success that even us cynics in the media must applaud.
Credit must also be given to organisers for swiftly finding and installing a replacement. Clearly the intention was to minimise the fallout from Cho’s surprise exit and they will be hoping the transition into new leadership is as smooth as the ice which will adorn many of the facilities in two years’ time.
Of course, it isn’t all rosy in the Pyeongchang 2018 garden. While they have enjoyed an undeniable turnaround in fortunes and although they are largely hitting the right tones, they aren’t quite pitch perfect just yet.
For example, the construction of non-competition facilities has emerged as a difficult obstacle with less than two years to go until the relatively quaint resorts of Pyeongchang and nearby Gangneung welcome the world for the Games. The IOC will watch progress, particularly at the International Broadcasting Centre, like a hawk in the coming months before the next Coordination Commission inspection in October.
Establishing clear legacy plans for some of the venues will also be high on Lee’s check sheet, and it also remains to be seen how he will interact with fellow former Government official and secretary general Hyungkoo Yeo, who has only officially held the position since November of last year.
Yeo is a bit of an unknown quantity as Cho had dealt with the challenges he faced without a recognised number two - Young-jin Kwak performed the role in an acting capacity - before he was introduced to the fold and his influence to those outside of South Korea remains unclear.
Organising Committees for Olympic Games are like many other similar entities; often there is a driving force behind the scenes who refuses to take credit, instead letting the President receive the glowing adulation of the media, local population and IOC bigwigs alike.
Take London 2012 for example. Chief executive Paul Deighton was considered the linchpin of the organisation but let Sebastian Coe, now the head of the International Association of Athletics Federations, garner all the plaudits while carrying out the dirty work in the background.
That is not to say Coe didn’t deserve the immense praise he was given. Far from it. But even he would surely be the first to admit he couldn’t have pulled off the greatest Olympics in history without the guidance and advice of his trusty second-in-command.
Cho, on the other hand, appeared very much a hands-on leader, directing his soldiers out on the battlefield instead of controlling from afar. Will Lee follow suit, or can we expect to see him mirror the methods of the Briton? Or is this the time for Yeo to assume the mantle and let the new President parade as the Pyeongchang 2018 poster boy?
One thing’s for sure - Lee will know he has big boots to fill. From the test events to the building of venues and enlisting the help of local and international businesses to grow the sponsorship portfolio of the event, Pyeongchang 2018 has enjoyed a golden period under Cho.
Yet there is a sense of irony in the fact that the hammer blow he dealt by walking away after a successful term as head of the Organising Committee has provided one of their biggest difficulties to date.
Still, true to form, Cho expressed his assurance that his departure will not taint and unravel the headway that has been made in the past two years.
“I am confident that Pyeongchang 2018 and the new leadership will move forward towards a successful 2018 Winter Games, I give my assurances that I will continue to support Pyeongchang through to the Games in 2018,” Cho said.
It is now up to Lee to prove his predecessor right.