Passionate display opens Games

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Passionate display opens Games


From left: Fireworks go off as the cauldron is lit during the final Paralympic torch relay; dancers line up for their routine as visually impaired singer Lee So-jeong’s performance begins at the start of the opening ceremony; wheelchair dancers perform a piece at the center of the Olympic Stadium stage in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, to choreography highlighting passion and unity, the themes of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. [JOONGANG ILBO, YONHAP]

The beats of traditional Korean drums heralded the start of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics on Friday night, as the voice of visually impaired singer Lee So-jeong serenaded the eager audience at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon.

The two-hour-long opening ceremony was attended by some 35,000 visitors including Korean President Moon Jae-in, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons, former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. The theme was “Passion moves us.”

Lee was joined on stage by dancers surrounding a “paraboat,” a flying ship made from equipment that athletes will use across the six para-sports - alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice hockey, snowboard and wheelchair curling - throughout the nine-day event.

“Everyone is equal,” Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (Pocog), said during the ceremony. “The Republic of Korea is now welcoming you with its upgraded and matured status in all levels such as political, economic, social, and cultural aspects.”

At one point, wheelchair dancers lit up the stage with their bright blue wheels, eventually coming together in a circle to emphasize the theme of passion and unity.

North Korea also appeared at its first-ever Winter Paralympics on Friday. Though initial plans had the North and South entering together under the unification flag, a disagreement over the inclusion of the Dokdo islets meant that the two countries entered separately.

North Korea marched under its own flag led by cross-country skier Kim Jong-hyun. The nation sent a 24-member delegation including skier Ma Yu-chol and four “observing athletes,” who will be sent to visit certain events as spectators, to the South last Wednesday.

Following the alphabetical order of the Korean language, Greece was the first to march on stage while North Korea entered 34th. South Korea came in last to the loudest cheer.

Russian athletes, who are competing as Neutral Paralympic Athletes, received the silent treatment, with barely any audible reaction upon the entrance of the 30 athletes.

Although they didn’t enter under the unification flag, North Korea’s Ma and South Korean visually impaired skier Choi Bo-gue entered the stadium with the Paralympic torch.

The duo passed the torch to cross-country skier Seo Borami and her coach Kaspar Wirz, who passed the flame to Park Ji-hoon, a triathlete, and his son Park Eun-chong, who has six rare diseases. Park Eun-chong carried the torch on behalf of Paralympic athletes of the future.

The flame was transferred to visually impaired alpine skier Yang Jae-rim and her guide Ko Unsori, who ascended the steps toward the cauldron, stopping halfway to pass the torch to para-ice hockey player Han Min-su, who pulled himself up the slope on a rope to reach the Paralympic cauldron.

Han was met at the top of the slope by a familiar pair of wire-framed glasses - Olympic silver-medal winning women’s curling team skip Kim Eun-jung was waiting to light the cauldron. Kim joined Seo Soon-seok, skip of the Korean wheelchair curling team, and the two lit the cauldron together, symbolizing cooperation and unity.

“Paralympians, you are here in record numbers,” said Parsons during the ceremony. “Keep fighting, play fair, have fun and keep pushing your limits. Above all keep dreaming, and may your dreams be realized. Your extraordinary stories are what dreams are made of and will be told for years to come.”

The PyeongChang Paralympics has a record number of athletes competing, with a total of 567 competitors from 49 nations. The United States has 68 athletes, the largest team at PyeongChang.

Despite the success of the opening ceremony, Pocog faced a last-minute predicament when 10 centimeters (3.93 inches) of snow piled up in the Gangwon region just two days before the event.

Starting from Thursday night to Friday morning, about 1,000 Pocog members, volunteers and military soldiers went on a mission to clear the snow in the stadium and the surrounding area.

“Because it didn’t snow as much as we expected,” said a member of Pocog, “we were finished clearing the snow by 12 p.m. The ceremony also wasn’t as cold [25 degrees Fahrenheit] as we expected it to be.”

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