The Dream Project nurtures Olympic aspirations
However, the latest round of the ongoing Dream Program, organized by Gangwon Provincial Government, has slowly begun to breathe new life into the area.
The initiative, established in 2004 during Pyeongchang’s bid for the Olympic Games, is aimed at promoting the values and ideals of the Olympic Movement and expanding the base of winter sports globally, the provincial government explained.
The program, which runs from Jan. 13 through Jan. 25, invites young athletes from countries where winter sports are not readily available and lets them experience activities like skiing and snowboarding.
This year, the project brought together 160 youths from 39 countries. Most of the participating nations are those in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and include Kenya, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Iraq. The provincial government said that, among the representative countries, six nations - Ecuador, Iraq, Mozambique, Qatar, Zimbabwe and Gabon - sent participants for the first time.
The provincial office said that the addition reflects the program’s emphasis on supporting youths from Africa and the Middle East, where weather conditions aren’t conducive for winter sports.
To mark the beginning of this year’s program, a welcome ceremony was held on Jan. 14, which gathered youths, government officials and foreign envoys from the representative countries.
“The Dream Program has been praised by the international sports community, including the International Olympic Committee, and played an important role in winning the bid for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Kim Jong, the second vice minister of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
He acknowledged what the initiative has achieved so far.
“For the time, this event contributed to widening the base of winter sports and raising awareness of Pyeongchang globally,” he said.
Gangwon Governor Choi Moon-soon also attended the event.
“I wish you build up your dreams in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, that will be renowned as the world Mecca of winter sports. I hope this event will help make dreams come true,” he said.
“Never forget this beautiful and kind-hearted Gangwon, and come back for 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. I’ll welcome each one of you as a family.”
Ngovi Kitau, the Kenyan ambassador, responded with his speech as a foreign envoy from one of the participating nations.
“The organizing committee has done an excellent job in making the program a success every year. I am pleased to note that special care has been taken to incorporate youths from countries with no winter season, such as Kenya,” he said.
“As we approach the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia [to be held from Feb. 7 to 23, 2014], it is my sincere hope that all the participants will not only make it to a national team but also win medals.”
The ambassadors of Argentina, Costa Rica Thailand and Ukraine also attended the event.
This year, participants will undergo a set of training sessions by Korean coaches from the Korea Skating Union and Alpensia Resort.
“Last year, we invited star athletes like speed skater Sung Si-bak,” said Choi Eun-kyung, of the provincial government. “This time, we couldn’t have professional athletes teach the participants, so instead we invited professional coaches.”
“But this year, for the first time, we have added intensive courses for young professional athletes, providing one-on-one teaching sessions,” the official added.
Along with training opportunities, the camp also offers them an opportunity to visit the Olympic facilities and other cultural destinations in Pyeongchang, as well as those in Seoul.
At the end of the program, informally called the Winter Sports Academy, the young athletes will participate in friendly matches.
This year’s participants mostly consist of ordinary teenagers looking to enjoy winter sports, as well as professional athletes - teens who have participated in domestic sporting events, though not necessarily winter sports competitions - and Paralympic contenders.
So far, a total of 1,246 youngsters from 62 countries have participated in the Dream Program, and among them, 117 have gone on to compete at international winter sporting events.
Although Pyeongchang failed twice in its bids for the 2010 and 2014 Games, it continued to run the program. The city won the right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in 2011.
BY PARK EUN-JEE [email@example.com]