Winter Olympics organisers cheered unexpectedly brisk demand as ticket applications opened Thursday, exactly one year before Pyeongchang 2018's official start in South Korea.
Organisers received more than 18,000 ticket applications within two hours, as they unveiled the Olympic torch inspired by traditional Korean porcelain. Nearly 3,000 athletes from around 100 nations will gather in Pyeongchang next year for the country's first-ever Winter Games, after Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics in 1988.
Infrastructure work is proceeding apace but concerns have been expressed about ticket sales, with little evidence of a buzz building up around the Games and an opinion poll released earlier this week saying 49 percent of South Koreans were not interested. But two hours into the sales, applications for 18,016 tickets had been received, the Pyeongchang Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (POCOG) told.
"It is more than what we expected and we are surprised that so many applications were made in such a short time," said POCOG spokesman Sung Baik-You said.
South Koreans - who are expected to make up 70 percent of spectators - can apply for tickets until late April and successful buyers will find out the following month, with more tickets going on general sale in September.
Sales timetables in other countries depend on each National Olympic Committee. Some 1.18 million tickets will be made available in total. POCOG marked a year to the Games by unveiling a weatherproof torch inspired by traditional Korean white porcelain for the Olympic relay, designed to keep the flame alive in the high altitudes and strong winds of the mountainous venue.
"With an undying flame and a unified passion, we will prepare for a successful torching lighting ceremony," POCOG president Lee Hee-Beom said in a statement. He re-iterated his call for neighbouring North Korea - which is subject to United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, and boycotted the Seoul Olympics - to take part.
"We are preparing for a scenario in case North Korea participates in the Pyeongchang Olympics," Lee told reporters, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. Lee has acknowledged that the burgeoning corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-Hye has hampered organisers' efforts, making companies reluctant to sign up to sponsorship deals and leaving it with a budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.