Ice gold fires up economy

09:29, March 05, 2010      

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Tears streamed down the face of Kim Yuna after her gold-medal free-skating performance in Vancouver. Back home, crowded round office screens, cafe televisions and mobile handsets, millions of South Koreans were euphoric.

The 19-year-old's record score at the Winter Olympics capped a mood in the country that has sent manufacturers' confidence to a seven-year high; boosted sales forecasts at companies like Hyundai Motor Co and Samsung Electronics Co; and made the city of PyeongChang a front runner to host the 2018 games.

"(South) Korea's strong performance in the Olympics may cause people to view the economy's performance in a more favorable light," said Timothy Condon, chief Asia economist at ING Bank NV in Singapore. "(South) Korea, the country, has the ability to outperform the world economy."

South Korean manufacturers' confidence rose in March to a seven-year high, the Bank of Korea said on Feb 26. President Lee Myung-bak said on Dec 30 Asia's fourth-largest economy is likely to expand more than 5 percent in 2010, the fastest pace in three years. Growth in 2009 was 0.2 percent. South Korea will become the first Asian country to host the Group of 20 nations summit, with a meeting in Seoul on Nov 11-12. The G20 accounts for about 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

'Queen Yuna'

Kim Yuna, known at home as "Queen Yuna", is the poster-girl for South Korea's rebound in more ways than one. Her face is on advertisements endorsing products from Samsung air-conditioners to Hyundai's Tucson sports utility vehicle. She's ambassador for the nation's 2018 Winter Olympics bid, the tourism bureau's "Visit Korea Year" and Incheon International Airport.

Kim, who appears in more than 40 TV and magazine advertisements, is also recasting a long-held view by older South Koreans that the country's youth are underachievers.

"Our youth rewrote (South) Korea's history at the Vancouver Olympics," Lee said in a nationwide address on March 1. "I'm confident they are the hope for (South) Korea's future."

During Kim's gold-winning performance, South Koreans stopped work to gather around TV screens in railway stations, restaurants and offices to cheer her on. Trading volume on Seoul's stock exchange fell by almost half during the 15 minutes during and after Kim's Feb 25 routine, the Korea Exchange said.

'Tremendous job'

"Kim Yuna and other South Korean players are doing a tremendous job," said Ahn Jeong-in, a 32-year-old banker who watched the victory on a plasma screen in her office in Seoul.

"I'm eager to see whether South Korea wins in its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympic games."

In Vancouver, South Korea won six golds, six silvers and two bronzes, a record haul that put the nation of 50 million people fifth in the medal standings. Before this year, South Korea's 17 winter golds were all from short-track speed skating.

"Our outstanding achievements in various games at the Vancouver Olympics helped boost Korea's image," said Kim Jin-sun, co-chairman of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Bid Committee. "It is giving big momentum to our efforts to host the 2018 games."

For PyeongChang, 180 km from Seoul, landing the games in a decision next year would be third time charm after being beaten by Vancouver in the 2003 vote and Sochi, Russia in 2007. If PyeongChang wins, it will add 20.49 trillion won ($17.8 billion) to the economy and create 230,000 jobs, the bid committee said, citing a study by the Korea Industrial Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade.

In December, Lee pardoned billionaire Lee Kun-hee, who quit as Samsung Group chairman after being charged with tax evasion, so he could lead South Korea's bid to host the 2018 games.

"I hope the Games will be held in (South) Korea so that many more athletes have the opportunity to compete in a Winter Olympics," said Kim Yuna at a press conference after her victory.

Two days earlier, team-mate Seung-Hoon Lee won the men's 10,000-meter speedskating race after Sven Kramer of the Netherlands was disqualified.

Hyundai, the nation's biggest carmaker, is also benefiting from its competitor's mistakes after Japan's Toyota Motor Corp recalled more than 8 million vehicles globally to fix faults.

Toyota's US sales dropped 16 percent in January from a year earlier while Hyundai's rose 24 percent, according to researcher Autodata Corp. Seoul-based Hyundai, which is offering a $1,000 incentive to US customers who trade in a Toyota, has risen 133 percent in the past year.

Samsung, the world's second-largest mobile-phone maker, may ship 270 million mobile handsets, 19 percent more than in 2009, or more than double the average industry increase, J.K. Shin, president of the mobile-communication division, said last month.

Suwon-based Samsung, which has three models with Kim Yuna's name on them, has risen 62 percent in the past year.

The victories in Vancouver helped distract South Koreans from the bleaker results of the global recession.

A survey carried out a week before Kim's gold showed consumer confidence fell for the first time in four months after the unemployment rate rose to a 10-year high. The central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record-low 2 percent on Feb 11 to boost growth.

Kim's sponsors are making the most of her victory. Samsung is inviting 200 customers to meetings with the skater and offering prizes of gold necklaces.

Source: China Daily
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