SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marking the 500-day countdown to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, organizers said Tuesday that 90 percent of construction of new venues is complete and the focus is now on preparing for test events.
Pyeongchang's organizing committee said construction is on schedule for a series of sports competitions scheduled from November to April that will serve as rehearsals for the Olympics, which begin Feb. 9, 2018.
The six new competition venues 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 next June and start operations in January 2018, organizers said.
The preparations are undergoing a transition from the ''planning phase to operational readiness,'' the organizing committee said in a statement.
''Asia has immeasurable potential to become the frontier of winter sports. Pyeongchang has been dedicated to promote winter sports and attract investments throughout Asia,'' the committee said.
Noting that the 2018 Games will be the first of three consecutive Olympics in Asia, the committee said Pyeongchang will be an ''opportunity to establish even closer links among the next host countries and build bridges through sports.''
Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, while Beijing will stage the 2022 Winter Games.
Pyeongchang organizers have overcome delays, local conflicts over venue constructions and difficulties attracting domestic sponsorships in past years. 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 was held in Seoul on Tuesday evening to mark the start of the countdown.