Winter Paralympics: Pyeongchang set for spectacular opening ceremony

From BBC - March 8, 2018

The largest ever Winter Paralympics will officially begin on Friday with the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

A record 567 athletes from 48 countries, plus the 'neutral Paralympic athlete' delegation, will take part.

There will be 80 medals awarded in six sports - alpine skiing, snowboarding, Para-ice hockey, wheelchair curling and the nordic skiing disciplines of cross country and biathlon.

The ceremony starts at 11:00 GMT.

The sporting action will begin with the men's and women's downhill skiing events from 00:30 GMT on Saturday.

North Korea will be making their Winter Paralympics debut, with two athletes in the cross country skiing, but unlike in the Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes marched at the opening ceremony under a unified flag, the two nations will remain separate for the Paralympics ceremony.

"Although we are disappointed, we respect the decision of the two NPCs who decided that marching separately would be better for both parties," said International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons.

"During discussions it was clear that the North Korea National Paralympic Committee respects and values the IPC's vision and mission.

"At the end of the meeting both NPCs recognised that their participation in Pyeongchang 2018 has brought them closer together, and the two have committed to working more closely together in the future."

Georgia and Tajikistan will also make their Winter Games debuts, while the USA will have the largest team with 68 athletes.

Russian athletes will be in attendance but will compete under as 'neutral Paralympic athletes' (NPA), after the nation was banned following a report which found evidence of state-sponsored doping.

Snowboarder Owen Pick, a former soldier who had his leg amputated after being injured in Afghanistan, will carry the British flag into the Olympic Stadium - this will be the first Games at which GB have had representation in snowboarding.

What can we expect from the opening ceremony?

The 35,000-capacity Olympic Stadium was built for last month's Winter Olympics and the Winter Paralympics at a cost of $106m (76m) and will be pulled down having hosted four events - the opening and closing ceremonies of both Games.

The space left by the pentagonal-shaped arena, which has been modified since the Olympics closing ceremony to allow greater access for disabled athletes, will be used for culture and sports.

Under the tag line 'passion moves us', organisers say the opening ceremony will "embody the new world of co-existence".

Nations will enter the arena in order of the Korean alphabet, before the Paralympic flame enters the stadium and lights a "moon-shaped" cauldron. There will also be a speech from South Korea president Moon Jae-in.

What are GB's medal targets?

Britain's 17-strong team is the country's biggest at a Winter Paralympics since Turin 2006, when 20 athletes took part, including a Para-ice hockey team.

GB will be represented in five sports - alpine skiing, snowboard, wheelchair curling and the two nordic skiing disciplines of biathlon and cross country.

Scott Meenagh will be the first British athlete to compete in nordic skiing at a Paralympics in 20 years.

Four years ago in Sochi, GB took home six medals, their highest tally for 30 years. There was gold for Kelly Gallagher and guide Charlotte Evans in the super G, a wheelchair curling bronze, plus four skiing medals in the visually impaired category for Jade Etherington, who retired after the Games, and her guide Caroline Powell.

The target for GB at Pyeongchang is to win between six and 12 medals, with an ambition of at least seven. If achieved, it would be their second-highest medal haul after the 10 at Innsbruck, Austria, in 1984 and their best since National Lottery funding began in 1997.

"It is quite a lot, and it's also a really tough target," said ParalympicsGB's chef de mission Penny Briscoe.

Who are ParalympicsGB's prospects?

What's happening with Russia?

Will the weather affect the Games?


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