The Olympic flame is burningThe 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will begin after an opening ceremony that starts at 8 p.m. tonight. The PyeongChang Olympics are the largest-ever Winter Games: some 2,925 athletes from 92 countries will compete with one another. South Korea is sending 144 athletes to compete in all 15 sports and North Korea is sending 22 to compete in five sports. A total of 102 gold medals — four more than in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games — are up for grabs: 70 from competitions on snow and 32 from competitions on ice.
The Winter Olympics is sometimes called “the league of wealthy countries” as winter sports call for expensive sports equipment and infrastructure. For instance, a gravity-powered sled for the bobsled event costs a whopping 200 million won ($183,655). Winning medals is tough: only 40 countries have so far won at least a medal in Winter Olympics, while 144 countries have done so in Summer Olympics.
But Gangwon province did all it could to nurture young athletes through its “Dream Programs” since 2004. 1,919 athletes from 83 countries have participated in the program since then, and 185 athletes from 24 countries will compete in the Pyeongchang Olympics thanks to the province’s consistent effort to help athletes from underdeveloped countries to advance in winter sports.
South Korea is hosting its first Olympic Games in 30 years. The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics played a big part in healing the conflict between the East and West in the Cold War era with the catchphrase of “Harmony and Progress.” This time, the slogan is “Passion, connected.” South Korea has a dream to connect all generations across the globe through winter sports. One example is a joint women’s ice hockey team between South and North Korea — their first joint team in an Olympics.
The road to the PyeongChang Games was bumpy. A massive doping scandal in Russia forced its athletes to compete on an individual basis. North Korea’s abrupt decision to participate raised controversy because North Korean ice hockey players took the places of South Korean players. Sports experts are complaining about the North’s musicians and cheerleaders getting the spotlight instead of international sports stars. Putting all the controversy behind, the Olympic flame will be lit this evening.
Sports are full of emotions and tears. It is a time for the athletes to do their best to demonstrate how hard they have been training. We must applaud their attempts to surpass humankind’s limits. Pyeongchang must showcase each and every warrior and their moments of victory and defeat.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 9, Page 34