PYEONGCHANG, Gangwon Province ― It is 9 a.m. on Monday, and he starts complaining.
“My hands and feet are freezing, and my face hurts,” says Rockey Mallobe, 17, from Kenya. Rockey is having his first experience of skiing at the Alpensia Resort, in PyeongChang.
“Use your poles to scrape snow off your boots,” says the instructor as Rockey struggles to get on his skis. He finally puts his boots into the skis. But then he loses his balance, before falling onto the snow.
“It’s so hard,” he complains again, but with a big smile on his face.
Rockey is one of the participants of the Dream Program, organized by the Gangwon Province government.
The annual program is a way to introduce winter sports to young people from places where they are not available, according to Heo Nam-seok, director of the International Event Division of Gangwon Province.
“Gangwon has great winter sports facilities. We want to make this place the Mecca of winter sports in Asia. This program is a part of our effort to achieve the goal,” he said.
Yet the event has another purpose. The program was first established in 2004 to promote PyeongChang’s bid to host the Winter Olympics.
PyeongChang believes the Dream Program is in line with the IOC’s Olympics legacy, which states, “All sports should be available to everyone in all countries.”
|Participants of the 2011 Dream Program at Alpensia Resort, PyeongChang, Monday. (Gangwon Province Government)|
PyeongChang failed twice before in its bids for the 2010 and 2014 Games. The “Dream,” however, has continued, inviting more than 750 youngsters across the world until last year.
This year, 119 youngsters from 32 countries are invited to benefit from the program. For the first time, it has also invited 24 disabled teenagers from six countries including Kenya, Thailand and Malaysia, with the aim of capturing the true meaning of the Olympics.
President of the Kenyan Paralympics Committee Jairus Mogalo, who brought four disabled athletes with him here, says the program offers them a “unique experience.”
“For us, having this kind of temperature is unique, it’s an exciting experience,” he says.
“Many young Kenyan people want to participate in winter sports, but we don’t have winter and snow. So this is a real good opportunity for them.”
From Feb 12-21, which coincides with the IOC’s visit here, the 2011 Dream Program is taking place at some of PyeongChang’s proposed venues for the 2018 Winter Games.
Throughout the 10-day intensive program, alpine skiing, cross country ski and snowboard training are taking place at the Alpensia Resort, while speed, figure, and short track speed skating are being taught at the Gangneung Indoor Ice Rink.
This year, the organizers have added various disciplines including curling, bobsleigh and ice hockey to the program in order to give the participants a better taste of the Winter Olympics.
For some participants, the Dream Program is also a stepping stone to achieving their dream to become an Olympic athlete. So far, the program has produced 12 Olympians from eight countries.
For Itzel Gaitao of Mexico on Monday, her first skiing experience doesn’t go smoothly.
“I’m a figure skater. I’m very new to this, but it’s really fun,” says the 17-year-old as she nervously climbs the small hill designed for beginners.
“I like Kim Yu-na. I love her skating. Ever since I watched her performance at the Vancouver Olympics, I wanted to visit here. This is like my dream come true,” she says with a chuckle.
“I used to be a national tennis player, and I had this big plan to become a major player. But I decided to skate because I like it so much.”
Her next dream is more ambitious. “I want to become the first Mexican figure skater to compete in the Olympics,” she says before starting out down the hill.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)