‘Heroes of Special Olympics, welcome’
PYEONGCHANG, GANGWON - The 2013 Pyeongchang Special Olympics World Winter Games kicked off yesterday with a magnificent opening ceremony at the Yongpyong Dome attended by 3,200 intellectually disabled athletes from 111 countries and 600 guests.
The event was established in 1968, spearheaded of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the younger sister of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Its mission is to improve the lives of intellectually disabled people.
Pyeongchang is hosting the 10th Winter Games and only the second in Asia after Japan. Pyeongchang also will be the site of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics.
The Special Winter Games will run through Feb. 5. The competition starts at 9 a.m. today with short track and speed skating at Gangneung Ice Rink.
The opening ceremony began with athletes parading into the dome with the theme of “Dream Chorus” to emphasize the harmony among all people. Messages of greeting from former NBA player Yao Ming of China and Korean musical actor Nam Kyung-joo, and others were broadcast on the dome’s scoreboard.
Because the event aims to foster community, athletes did not carry their national flags at the opening ceremony. Organizers also don’t track the total number of medals won by individuals or countries.
“I’m very happy that Pyeonchang is the host city for the Special Olympics Games, a festival where the intellectually disabled and autistic persons of the world are given a chance to pursue challenges, and a place where mankind overcome all barriers to be united,” said Na Kyung-won, chairwoman of the organizing committee during the ceremony. “I hope that the intellectually disabled persons could become more confident through this event as well as their rights and dignity could be known throughout the world.”
The highlight of the opening was the torch-lighting ceremony conducted by two Korean athletes; Gam Gang-chan, a rising star of the Korean national figure skating team, and Hwang Seok-il, an intellectually disabled snowboarder.
The torch was escorted by 85 police officers from around the world when it arrived to Korea from Athens and was handed to Hwang, who lit the flame.
Lee Jeok then sang the Olympics’ theme song, “Together We Can,” with a chorus that included 25 people with developmental disorders.
“Korea, we thank you for welcoming these great athletes. And athletes, we thank you today for being the flag of world,” said Timothy Shriver, President of Special Olympics Inc. in the opening address. “Athletes, please be role models for the whole world and teach them that kindness and gentleness are great and the intense longing of competition is all about being the best you can be. Heroes of Special Olympics, welcome to Korea!”
The opening ceremony was conducted by Lee Byeong-woo, 49, who directed music in Korean movies including “Mother” (2009), “The Host” (2006) and “The King and the Clown” (2005).
In this morning’s first event, 14-year-old Hyun In-ah, who won the silver medal in the women’s 332-meter short track in the Pre-Olympics last February in Pyeongchang, will skate.
Alpine skiing, with 332 athletes from 49 countries will compete, and snowboarding, with 68 participants, start at 10 a.m. today at Yongpyong Resort.
Snowshoeing will be held at the Biathlon Stadium at Alpensia Resort with 329 athletes, also starting at 10 a.m. today.
Floorball, selected as a demonstration sport, also kicks off with 64 players from eight countries at Gangneung Ice Rink.
“The city is very excited to host the event,” said Kim Jang-suk, 54, who owns a restaurant near the Alpensia Resort. “It is very nice to see many international visitors full of curiosity about the event as well as the city. We hope we can learn many things from the event so we can do better in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.”
“It always feels good to take part in a large scale international event like this,” said Park Hyo-ju, a university student majoring in English who is one of the Special Olympics volunteers and manages athletes’ equipment. “I’m learning many things every time I see these players, because I’m able to see that they are extremely diligent and vibrant in living, even though they are disabled people.”
By Kwon Sang-soo [email@example.com]