PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee on Sunday gave the thumbs-up to the Pyeongchang winter Olympics at the halfway mark, saying organisers had delivered on promises despite some empty seats in the venues.
The Feb. 9-25 winter Games — the first to be held in Asia outside Japan — have not drawn sold-out crowds, with several venues far from filled and organisers bringing in volunteers to fill the seats but the Olympic body said it was satisfied so far.
The Games have seen no major operational disruption, as was the case in previous Olympics such as in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“Halfway through is a very important point, especially if you can speak about the field of play and athletes’ performances and competitions,” said the Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi.
“What is particularly pleasing is the quality of the fields of play. This is the result of long and hard work.”
The Games also got a major sports boost on Saturday when Czech Ester Ledecka, a rank outsider, caused one of the biggest upsets in winter Olympics history to win the Alpine skiing Super-G title.
“Like everyone else we were amazed. It is an incredible story, a most amazing story,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams of Ledecka, a world champion snowboarder.
“She is already maybe the Queen of the Games and if she wins that (snowboard competition), then who knows.”
One broadcaster who missed the winning run by the Czech was U.S. rights holder NBC — the biggest single source of income for the Games — which decided Austrian favourite Anna Veith, in the lead at the time, had done enough to win and cut away before Ledecka’s charge down the mountain.
Victory for Ledecka, who is a world champion snowboarder, was a welcome distraction for organisers from questions about the empty seats in venues, which they say were due to some postponements at the start due to winds, the Lunar New Year and a cold snap at the start of the Games.
Pyeongchang organisers say they have sold more than 90 percent of their one million-plus tickets but regularly bring in volunteers and other staff to plug the gaps in the tribunes.
Even venues such as Alpine skiing and short track speed skating — hugely popular in South Korea — were not full during preliminaries.
“Some of the sessions do not have 100 percent tickets sold,” Dubi said, adding organisers were giving tickets to people who had contributed to the Games to have full venues.
“This is a great thing organisers have done here. We have really great competitions and performances and also a very good job done by the (volunteers) of the athletes.”
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty