Posted : 2013-01-29 19:23
Updated : 2013-01-29 19:23

Curtains rise on Special Olympics in PyeongChang

Athletes for the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games wave as they march into the Yongpyong Dome in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, Tuesday. / Yonhap

Special Olympics kick off 8-day run

By Jung Min-ho

Snowboarder Hwang Suk-il lights up the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games cauldron at the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, Tuesday. / Yonhap
PYEONGCHANG - The 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games began Tuesday with powerful messages from world figures, including Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, under the slogan, "Together we can."

The event will bring athletes with intellectual disabilities to center stage during its eight-day run, giving each one of them a "moment to shine."

Starting from her conviction to fight for the people who were underprivileged and facing prejudice and discrimination, Suu Kyi said that human rights are the most important value above all in her welcome message.

Na Kyung-won, chairwoman of the Special Olympics Organizing Committee, said "I would like to commend all the athletes who came here for challenges despite their adversities. I hope this event makes everyone united in a feeling that we need to work together to make this world a better place."

Taking this opportunity, PyeongChang will initiate an international campaign for the rights and dignity of all, she added.

"Be role models for the whole world. Teach the whole world that kindness and gentleness are great," Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy Shriver said. "Teach the whole world that the intense longing for competition is all about being the best you can be. Teach the whole world that together, we can do anything."

Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na also visited the venue as an honorary ambassador. She noted, in fluent English, her dream was to make "your dreams" come true after her dream of winning an Olympic gold medal was realized in Vancouver three years ago.

Starting with Greece, birthplace of the modern Olympics, marching into Yongpyong Dome, 3,014 athletes and delegates from 106 nations followed in alphabetical order. Korea marked the end of the parade with 247 athletes and officials.

As President Lee Myung-bak declared the opening of the extravaganza amid joyful cheers from the capacity crowd at the stadium, and the night sky was lit up with fireworks.

A "Snowman" performance was one of the highlights of the opening. In the show, the snowman, which symbolizes a person with intellectual disabilities, overcame prejudice with the love of his family. Seventeen-year-old figure skater Kam Kang-chan played the main character.

After the Snowman performance, snowboarder Hwang Suk-il lit up the Special Olympics cauldron that will burn until Feb. 5.

The quadrennial Special Olympics World Winter Games were founded in 1977. Unlike the Paralympics where physically or intellectually disabled athletes compete at the elite level, the event focuses on encouraging participation. There are no medal tallies for participants. The top three finishers in each event are still awarded medals but all finalists receive ribbons.

The first competition will be the short-track speed skating at the Gangneung Ice Rink, starting this morning.

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