PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - A Korean amputee performer beat a giant drum on a freezing, foggy Friday night to celebrate the opening of the largest Winter Paralympics in history.
A record 567 disabled athletes, representing 48 countries and regions, as well as the Neutral Paralympic Athlete delegation, will compete in South Korea over a 10-day span. Medals will be up for grabs in 80 events in six sports.
Three nations — North Korea, Georgia and Tajikistan — made their debuts at the Winter Games. The games run until March 18.
Spectators bundled up in snowsuits in the minus 4 C weather in Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium to witness the beginning of the first Winter Paralympics here
“The journey of an athlete starts with a dream: the dream of competing in sport; of representing your country; of winning a medal and writing your name into history,” International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons said in his opening remarks.
“From tomorrow, Paralympic athletes will turn their dreams into reality. They will perform feats that some might not even dare to dream about. Speed, skill, strength, endurance and intelligence; tremendous abilities that will at first surprise you, but ultimately will inspire and excite you.”
Alpine skier and flag-bearer Momoka Muraoka led 68 members of Japan’s delegation into the outdoor stadium, the national flag attached to her wheelchair. The team, wearing long red coats, waved their flags and hands to the crowd.
The team is led by former Alpine skier Kuniko Obinata, who claimed the country’s first Winter Paralympic gold in 1998, when Japan hosted the previous games held in Asia.
The nation will contest every sport except curling, with a total of 38 Japanese athletes competing in alpine skiing, cross country skiing, biathlon, para ice hockey and snowboarding.
Just like February’s Olympic Games, the cold weather has been a nagging problem for the Paralympics, and it has already caused cancellations of official training session. At the ceremony, the organizers handed out blankets and raincoats to the audience, but empty seats were noticeable.
While the North and South Korean athletes stole the scene at the Olympics’ opening ceremony when they marched together under a unified flag, the same did not happen at the Paralympics.
The North Korean delegation, however, received one of the largest cheers from the crowd — some spectators carried the blue unified Korean flag used at the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
Russia remains suspended from the games due to the country’s state-sponsored doping when it hosted the 2014 Sochi Games. Thirty athletes, who have met strict conditions, were approved by the International Paralympic Committee to compete as Neutral Paralympic Athletes in Pyeongchang.