PyeongChang Paralympics Starts Ceremony by Highlighting Coexistence

Nicholas Kim, March 9, 2018, 9:14 a.m.

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games kicked off on Friday with an opening ceremony emphasizing passion and coexistence. Taking "Passion Moves Us" as its theme, the opening ceremony of the first Winter Paralympics in South Korea took place at the 35,000-seat Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province.

The Paralympics, which follows last month's Winter Olympic Games, will be held in PyeongChang and neighboring cities Gangneung and Jeongseon through March 18. It will be the largest Winter Paralympics ever, with 570 athletes competing for 49 nations. There are a record 80 gold medals up for grab.

The ceremony, put together by executive creative director Kim Moon-tae, started with an introductory video that symbolically showed the passion of the athletes boiling the mercury of a thermometer. The countdown began as a para ice hockey player shot a "flaming puck" that broke the screen. As the count reached zero, the ground froze up, and fireworks signaled the opening of the winter festival.

Shin Myeong-jin, an amputee performer with a prosthetic arm and legs, then appeared on the center stage beating a giant traditional drum. It was a newly interpreted percussion performance of the traditional "bin-rye," the welcoming ceremony for important guests visiting the royal court of Korea in earlier times.

As the performance of various traditional drums began, the circular stage in the center rose. The powerful sound of many beats combined to convey a message of harmony. A hundred dancers then joined the feast with elegantly choreographed movements.

The emblem of the PyeongChang Paralympic Winter Games was then mapped on the stage and the welcome message was displayed.

The performances were put on hold momentarily as Taegeukgi, the South Korean national flag, was transported into the stadium by eight South Korean Paralympians -- four in wheelchairs -- along the frozen waterway depicted on the ground. The waterway was then colored with the red-and-blue taegeuk symbol.

Hwang Young-taek and Kim Hyuk-gun, two singers with physical impairments, together with an all-wheelchair choir sang the national anthem.

The Parade of Athletes ensued, with athletes from 49 nations walking into the open-air arena. As per tradition, the order of the parade was determined in the order of the host nation's alphabet -- which is "hangeul" in South Korea.

Greece, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games, was the first nation to enter. South Korea was the last to appear. North Korea was 34th, just behind Japan.

The South and the North originally planned to have a joint march like they did at the Olympics, but the two parties' plan was scrapped Thursday after they failed to narrow their differences on using a Korean Unification Flag showing the South Korean eastern islets of Dokdo.

The North previously said that it wanted the flag to show Dokdo. The South, however, wanted to have the Korean Unification Flag without Dokdo to respect the International Paralympic Committe (IPC)'s recommendation not to politicize sports events.

Dokdo, called Takeshima in Japan, consists of a set of rocky islets lying close to the Korean Peninsula in the East Sea. It has long been a recurring source of tension with Japan.

Segments highlighting people with impairments' dreams and visions then took the center stage. The performance showed a girl with a visual impairment drawing a world of imagination and hope. In the end, it showed children and Paralympians dancing to a song with sign language motions, reflecting a message that PyeongChang is a place where the dream of becoming one comes true.

Then Lee Hee-beom, president of PyeongChang's organizing committee, and Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Commitee, each took the stage to give speeches. Next, South Korean President Moon Jae-in officially declared the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics open.

Following their speeches, the Paralympic flag was carried in by future Paralympians. Then representatives of the athletes, officials and coaches for the PyeongChang Paralympics swore the Paralympic oath.

Another artistic segment followed that featured a "Wheel of Passion" symbolizing the passion that leads to equality and harmony and an energy that erases the boundaries of division. After dancers performed with wheelchairs, the Wheel started to rise and the petals that represent the four Paralympic values -- courage, determination, inspiration and equality -- engulfed the Wheel and created the "Sphere of Coexistence."

Then it was time for the cauldron lighting. The flame for the PyeongChang Paralympics had been first born in five local cities before being united on Saturday with three other flames -- a flame representing the 1988 Seoul Summer Paralympic Games, a flame from Stoke Mandeville in Britain, the birthplace of the Paralympics, and a digitally created flame. A total of 800 torchbearers participated in groups of two to complete the 2,018 kilometer distance.

After the moon-shaped white porcelain cauldron, which was also used at the Olympics, was lit with the sacred flame, the "Sphere of Coexistence" turned into a sun emitting bright red light. It then became the white full moon as the ceremony concluded with a moonlight dance. Soprano Sumi Jo and singer Sohyang gave the final performances.

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