Daegu gears up for 11,000 foreign athletesDaegu, a city that experienced extreme sorrow when a subway fire killed over 190 people this winter, is putting on a smile for the world. Residents and leaders of Korea’s third-largest city are regaining their spirit during preparations for the 2003 Summer Universiade, a biennial sports festival for athletes ages 17 to 28.
Starting Aug. 20 and extending for 10 days, 11,000 athletes from 170 countries will compete in 13 sports on land and water such as archery, diving and taekwondo. This year’s Universiade will be notable as a sizable delegation of North Koreans, both players and supporters, are headed to Daegu.
For this “city of fashion,” so named due to the prevalence of textile mills, the Universiade could be a springboard for shedding its conservative image
“The young people who will come to Daegu next month to participate in the Universiade will become leaders of global society in 10 or 20 years,” Kim Yeon-hee, a volunteer for the games, says. “We want them to leave with beautiful memories of Daegu and of Korea.”
The 65 sporting venue and practice areas, along with 10,000 volunteers and 2,300 interpreters, who speak Italian, Dutch and Russian, among other languages, are gearing up to welcome the hordes.
This Universiade’s theme is “Encounter,” and fittingly around 40 cultural events are wedged between the dazzling opening and closing ceremonies to support that motto.
Rock-and-roll music will thunder from Daegu’s Duryu Park at night, and the Daegu Opera House will feature “Carmen,” and other operas and musicals. A stage has also gone up in the Athletes’ Village, where Korean traditional artists, collegians and foreign troupes will strut their stuff. Farther afield, the city of Gyeongju, a former capital of the Silla Dynasty, will hold an expo; Gumi and Gimcheon will have parties too.
A push for solidarity among the two Korean support groups already seems to have taken root.
“North Korean players belong to Korea just like South Koreans in the sense that we have the same blood ancestors. Let’s root for each other with one voice,” says Lee Yeong-woo, the leader of the North Korean cheering squad.
The North’s support brigade, who will arrive wearing T-shirts imprinted with the image of the Korean peninsula, will travel to the venues to cheer for their home country athletes. Around 200 members of the South’s support crew, Dalseong, are also planning to cheer at every competition that North Korean athletes participate in.
In all, over 1,200 local supporters will be on hand. In preparation for the opening ceremony, the Dalseong are charged with welcoming the North Koreans, arranging dinner and other special events and inspecting lodging before athletes pour in.
by Chung Ki-hwan