Pyeongchang counts down to Paralympics

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Pyeongchang counts down to Paralympics


Wheelchair curlers compete at the World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Gangneung, Gangwon, on March 4. [YONHAP]

The countdown to the first Winter Paralympic Games in Korea will reach one year on Thursday, with homegrown athletes eyeing the country’s first gold medal at the multisport competition for disabled athletes.

Pyeongchang County, an alpine resort town about 110 miles east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, will host the country’s first Winter Paralympics from March 9 to 18 next year under the slogan “Passion. Connected.”

The event follows the Winter Olympics that will be staged from Feb. 9 to 25.

The Winter Paralympic Games will take place at the same venues as the Winter Olympics. The opening and closing ceremonies, as well as most snow sports, will be staged in Pyeongchang, while alpine skiing events will be contested further east in Jeongseon County. Gangneung, a coastal city in Gangwon, will host all ice sports during the Paralympics.

The PyeongChang Organizing Committee estimates some 50 countries will send about 1,700 athletes and officials to take part in the Paralympics. They will vie for 80 gold medals at stake in six sports.

At the PyeongChang Paralympics, 78 gold medals are up for grabs in four snow sports - para alpine skiing, para snowboard, para biathlon and para cross-country skiing. Two ice sports - para ice hockey and wheelchair curling - offer one gold medal each.

Korea plans to send its athletes to all six sports. Although the qualification process runs until June, pundits expect about 40 to 45 local Paralympians will compete.

Korea aims to finish inside the top 10 with four medals, including one gold, at the Winter Paralympics at home. The country has so far collected only two silver medals in seven Winter Paralympics and has yet to win a gold medal.

Alpine skier Han Sang-min became the first Korean to claim a Winter Paralympic medal in 2002, when he took silver in giant slalom LW12. The national wheelchair curling team also won silver in 2010.

The Korean Paralympic Committee said with home-field advantage, the PyeongChang Paralympics is a great opportunity for Korean athletes to show their best performance. The athletes will first check their skills by competing at the Paralympic test events.

The test events kicked off last week with the World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Gangneung. Three more test events - the World Para Snowboard World Cup Finals, the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup and the World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals - will be held this week, while the World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool will be contested from April 11 to 20.

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