South Korea Hosts Largest Winter Youth Olympics with Emphasis on Youthful Dreams

GANGNEUNG – The fourth edition of the Winter Youth Olympics, a celebration of young athletes' aspirations, commenced in the eastern part of South Korea on Friday. Gangwon Province is hosting the event, which welcomes athletes aged 15 to 18, until February 1. This marks the first time the Winter Youth Olympics are being held outside Europe, following Austria, Norway, and Switzerland.

According to the Yonhap News Agency, this year's Youth Olympics is the largest ever, with 1,802 athletes from 78 nations. They will compete in 81 events across seven sports and 15 disciplines, with South Korea presenting the largest delegation of 102 athletes. The 90-minute opening ceremony was uniquely conducted at two venues: the Gangneung Oval, a speed skating venue in Gangneung, and the Pyeongchang Dome in Pyeongchang.

The Gangneung Oval hosted the primary ceremony featuring dancers and K-pop acts, while Pyeongchang Dome showcased additional K-pop performances. Gangneung will host all ice events, while Pyeongchang will cater to snow events such as ski jumping and biathlon, reminiscent of the 2018 Winter Olympics where Pyeongchang was the main host. Nearby Jeongseon will host alpine skiing and moguls events, and Hoengseong will stage other freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.

All events are open to the public free of charge, with tickets available online. Cultural performances will also entertain visitors throughout the event. The opening ceremony's narrative centered around a fictional Gangwon-native girl named "Woori," symbolizing Koreans' achievement of dreams. The story followed Woori's ambition to become an astronaut.

Prominent South Korean athletes, including 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, carried the national flag during the ceremony. President Yoon Suk Yeol officially declared the Youth Olympics open.

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 final torch journey. The torch was then passed to short track speed skating sisters Park Ha-eun and Park Ga-eun, followed by former skater Park Seung-hi. The honor of lighting the Youth Olympic cauldron went to 17-year-old freestyle skier Lee Jeong-min. The ceremony featured a unique digital flame, a first in Youth Olympic history, powered by cloud computing technology and designed to change color based on real-time weather data in Gangwon.

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