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Organizers hope Olympic Games will put Pyeongchang on the map

Nathan Fenno, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

After a slow start to ticket sales -- and concerns about the frigid weather driving away casual fans -- about 78 percent of tickets for the Games have been sold. Organizers distributed kits with a blanket and heat packs to attendees at the opening ceremony in the open, unheated Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.

The weather isn't the only challenge. There's the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal, which barred many of the country's athletes, although some have been invited by the International Olympic Committee to compete under the Olympic flag with "Olympic Athlete from Russia" written on their uniforms.

There's continued tension between the U.S. and North Korea over the country's missile and nuclear programs. Vice President Mike Pence, who led the U.S. delegation to the Games, announced new sanctions against North Korea this week.

There's also the tense relationship between the two Koreas, although the countries marched together in the opening ceremony under a Korean unification flag.

And the NHL didn't allow its players to compete in the Games after five consecutive Winter Olympics with the league's players.

But a bigger question could be the lack of household names among the 244 athletes the U.S. is sending. A recent survey by Hub Entertainment Research found only two Olympians -- snowboarder Shaun White and Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn -- registered significant name recognition with U.S. audiences.

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Still, the attention they'll bring to the Games is significant. White is a four-time Olympian whose website describes him as an icon. What would be braggadocio for most athletes is simply conveying reality for the man with two Olympic gold medals -- and designs on another.

"Physically, I feel stronger than I've ever felt," White said.

While Vonn missed the Sochi Olympics in 2014 because of a knee injury, the speed specialist won four World Cup events last month. She has 81 career World Cup victories, five short of the record held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.

Fellow Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the slalom in Sochi at age 18, could be the most dominant U.S. athlete at the Games. She is the top-ranked World Cup skier this season -- amassing almost twice as many points as her second-ranked competitor, Wendy Holdener of Switzerland -- and is a medal threat in the slalom, giant slalom and combined disciplines.

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