Special Olympics torch headed to Pyeongchang

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Special Olympics torch headed to Pyeongchang

A seven-day torch relay for the Special Olympics World Winter Games Pyeongchang 2013 kicks off today at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, and the torch will be carried by 75 police officers from 21 countries.

A group of 10 Korean cops will join them.

The torch’s journey will bring it through 39 cities and counties starting today until Tuesday, the Games’ opening day. They will be held in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, which will host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games from Jan. 29 until Feb. 5.

“As police officers in each country strive to protect people with disabilities, the torch relay team, comprised of law enforcement officers, demonstrates its commitment to helping those in need,” said the organizing committee in a press release.

The Special Olympics is for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and is held biennially, alternating between winter and summer Games. It is separate from the Paralympic Games, which are held after the summer and winter Olympics for athletes with physical disabilities.

“Through this year’s Special Games in Pyeongchang, I hope Koreans realize the benefits of hosting this wonderful event as it helps both families of the handicapped and society as a whole,” said Jeffrey Spaulding, an American police chief from Westminster, Maryland, with 40 years of service who came to Korea Friday to be one of the torch bearers. “Participating in this special event will present an opportunity for the handicapped to earn inclusion to society, which is important as they are part of our society too.”

Among the 10 Korean officers carrying the torch is Cpl. Lee Ho-shin from the Nonsan Police Precinct in South Chungcheong, who decided to join the cause to give hope to his 5-year-old nephew, who has an intellectual disability.

“Personally, it is a great honor being a part of the Special Games,” said the 41-year-old officer. “I wish my nephew will see rays of hope and possibilities from watching people just like him compete in the Olympics.”

The torch will be carried by two different groups, one going to Jeolla and the other to Gyeongsang, and they’ll all be reunited in Pyeongchang Tuesday.

This year’s Special Winter Olympics, which aims to promote “equality, tolerance and acceptance,” will have over 2,200 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 120 countries compete in 32 events such as skiing, snowboarding and figure skating, according to the Special Games Organizing Committee led by Chairwoman Na Kyung-won, former lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party.

Seven Asian nations including Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam will take part in the special sports event for the first time.

The participation of cops began at the 1981 Kansas Special Olympics on a proposal by Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon to raise public awareness of the games.

Myanmar’s pro-democracy activist and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will arrive in Korea Monday to attend the opening ceremony of the Special Winter Games in Pyeongchang the next day. She will also meet President-elect Park Geun-hye Tuesday. The Nobel Peace Prize winner will spend five days in Korea.

By Kang Jin-kyu, Lee Jeong-bong [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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