Gangwon Province Hosts Record-Breaking Winter Youth Olympics

GANGNEUNG – South Korea's Gangwon Province marked the opening of the fourth Winter Youth Olympics on Friday, hosting the largest edition of the event to date. The province will welcome athletes aged 15 to 18 from around the world until February 1, making it the first Winter Youth Olympics held outside Europe.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, this year's Olympics boasts a record participation of 1,802 athletes from 78 nations, surpassing previous editions held in Austria, Norway, and Switzerland. Competitors will engage in 81 events across seven sports and 15 disciplines. South Korea, as the host nation, presents the largest delegation with 102 athletes.

The 90-minute opening ceremony took place simultaneously at Gangneung Oval in Gangneung and Pyeongchang Dome in Pyeongchang. The Gangneung Oval, situated 160 kilometers east of Seoul, hosted the main ceremony with dance performances and K-pop acts, while Pyeongchang Dome featured additional K-pop stars. Gangneung will host all ice events, whereas Pyeongchang, the main host city of the 2018 Winter Olympics, will cater to snow events including ski jumping and biathlon. Jeongseon county, near Pyeongchang, will host alpine and freestyle skiing's moguls events, while Hoengseong county will stage other freestyle skiing events and snowboarding.

All events are accessible free of charge, with online booking available for spectators. The event also includes cultural performances for visitors. The opening ceremony narrated the story of "Woori," a fictional character from Gangwon, representing Koreans who achieve their dreams. The narrative followed Woori's ambition to become an astronaut.

Prominent South Korean winter sport athletes participated in the ceremony, carrying the national flag into the oval. These included short track speed skater Seo Whi-min, biathlete Kim Yong-gyu, figure skater Lee Hae-in, bobsledder Jun Jung-lin, hockey player Ahn Kun-young, and speed skater Lee Kang-seok. President Yoon Suk Yeol declared the Youth Olympics open following the flag raising.

The final leg of the torch relay began at Pyeongchang Dome and concluded at Gangneung Oval, where the Olympic cauldron was lit. Yun Sung-bin, the 2018 Olympic men's skeleton champion, initiated the torch's final journey. Park Ha-eun and Park Ga-eun, sisters competing in short track speed skating, and former skater Park Seung-hi, a two-time gold medalist, were also torchbearers. Seventeen-year-old freestyle skier Lee Jeong-min had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron. The ceremony featured a first-ever digital flame, powered by cloud computing technology, which will remain lit throughout the competition and change color based on Gangwon's real-time weather data.

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