With 500 days to go, Pyeongchang organizers are optimistic

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — With 500 days until the Olympic cauldron is ignited in Pyeongchang, organizers of the 2018 Winter Games say 90 percent of construction on new venues is complete and the focus of preparations is on test events.

Pyeongchang's 2018 organizing committee on Tuesday said construction is on track for a series of sports competitions scheduled from November to April that will serve as rehearsals for the Olympics, which begin Feb. 9, 2018.

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The six new competition venues organizers are building for the Games are now 88 percent complete and 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 next year and start operations in January, 2018, organizers said.

Organizers have overcome delays, local conflicts over venue constructions and difficulties attracting domestic sponsorships in past years, and optimism over preparations has increased after the successful hosting of the first round of test events at Alpine venues earlier this year.

Despite a slow start, organizers say more than 80 percent of the domestic sponsorship target of $850 million has been met and that they expect to reach 90 percent of the target by the end of the year.

A program of cultural events featuring pop singers and local sports stars were planned in the South Korean capital for Tuesday evening to mark the start of the 500-day countdown to the Pyeongchang Games.

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