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PyeongChang Special Olympics World Winter Games 2013

Pyeongchang spreads message of harmony for all

The Special Olympics in Pyeongchang ended with a message of hope and harmony between intellectually disabled and non-disabled around the globe. The closing ceremony of the Special Olympics World Winter Games PyeongChang 2013 took place on February 5 at Yongpyong Dome in Gangneung, Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province). The closing ceremony entertained all attendees with performances by K-pop stars including Wonder Girls and f(x), and an ice show performance involving star figure skaters from Korea and the United States -- Kim Yu-na and Michelle Kwan -- along with figure skaters with intellectual disabilities.

The Special Olympics flag is passed to the flag holder during the closing ceremony of the Games. Los Angeles is the venue for the next Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2015 (photo courtesy of the Special Olympics PyeongChang 2013 Organizing Committee).The Special Olympics flag is passed to the flag holder during the closing ceremony of the Games. Los Angeles is the venue for the next Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2015 (photo courtesy of the Special Olympics PyeongChang 2013 Organizing Committee).


The Games grabbed media attention in many ways, with the partitipation of more than 3,000 athletes from 106 countries, the largest scale ever in the 45-year history of the Special Olympics. They showed off their talents and built friendships while competing in eight sporting events in snow as well as on the ice in Pyeongchang and Gangneung from January 29 to February 5.

U.S. star figure skater Michelle Kwan (center left) and Korea’s Kim Yu-na (center right) perform a group dance with intellectually disabled figure skaters during the ice show at the closing ceremony at Yongpyong Dome (photo: Yonhap News).U.S. star figure skater Michelle Kwan (center left) and Korea’s Kim Yu-na (center right) perform a group dance with intellectually disabled figure skaters during the ice show at the closing ceremony at Yongpyong Dome (photo: Yonhap News).


The media took an interest not only in the sporting events but also in sideline events, as world leaders, famous sports stars, and celebrities from both overseas and Korea participated. Among the sideline events included the Global Development Summit and the Unified Sports Program.

The Global Development Summit was the first high-level gathering ever held in Special Olympics history. At the summit, world leaders and figures of international influence adopted the “PyeongChang Declaration” which calls for the world to work together for the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities. The summit focused on issues of poverty and isolation of the intellectually disabled in order to raise global awareness. The summit participants included Chairwoman Na Kyung-won of the Games Organizing Committee, Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, Myanmar’s Chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy, Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy Shriver, and President Joyce Banda of Malawi. They urged all countries to provide equal opportunities for the intellectually disabled and put an end to social isolation and discrimination towards people with intellectual disabilities.

The legacy of the Special Olympics was highly respected by world leaders. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message to the summit that the noble cause of the Special Olympics is in line with the Millennium Development Goals of the UN. The pro-democratic opposition leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi also said she highly values the cause of the Special Olympics and said she hopes to learn more from the Games in order to contribute to her home country.

Yao Ming, (second from left) a well-known Chinese basketball player, has fun with intellectually disabled athletes at an event of the Unified Sports Program held in Pyeongchang (photo: Yonhap News).Yao Ming, (second from left) a well-known Chinese basketball player, has fun with intellectually disabled athletes at an event of the Unified Sports Program held in Pyeongchang (photo: Yonhap News).


The Unified Sports Program also received attention, as it involves events where celebrities play with athletes with intellectual disabilities, symbolically creating a harmony between the non-disabled and those with intellectual disabilities while playing together. Award-winning celebrities and sports stars who participated in the program included basketball player Yao Ming and actress Zhang Ziyi from China, famous figure skater Michelle Kwan, and short track skater Apolo Ohno from the United States, marathoner Lee Bong-ju, and short track skater Kim Dong-sung from Korea.

The Special Hands Program is another highlight of the Games which expanded the cooperation between the host country and overseas guests. Through the project, the Organizing Committee invited athletes to Pyeongchang from seven countries that have never participated in the Special Olympics or had an opportunity to play winter sports, making the international event more special. The seven invited countries included Cambodia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Thailand.

The Financial Times assessed the hosting of the Games as giving “an early taste” of the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018. “The event provided an opportunity to take stock of preparations for the 2018 games,” Simon Mundy wrote in a report titled “S. Korea: Special Olympics gives taste of 2018 winter games” on the blog of the leading U.K. business daily.

“The games attracted 3,014 competitors from 106 countries, as well as a visit from the Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi,” the writer said.

“The 2018 games will help to stimulate an area that is relatively underdeveloped (Gangwon Province). They will also help to build the contribution of South Korea’s winter sports facilities to its tourism industry,” the Seoul correspondent for the Financial Times quoted Kim Yong-hwan, Korean Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism in the report.

“This year's Special Olympics are important in their own right. The media coverage of the games will help to change attitudes to learning difficulties in South Korean society,” the reporter quoted Kim.

To read the full text of the Financial Times report, click here.


By Yoon Sojung
arete@korea.kr

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