The countdown to the first Winter Paralympics in South Korea reached 100 days Wednesday, with the host eyeing a top-10 finish at the multisport competition for disabled athletes.
PyeongChang, an alpine resort town some 180 kilometers east of Seoul in Gangwon Province, will host the Winter Paralympic Games from March 9 to 18 next year, under the slogan "Passion. Connected."
The event follows the Winter Olympic Games, scheduled from Feb. 9 to 25.
The Winter Paralympics will take place at the same venues as the Winter Olympics. The opening and closing ceremonies, as well as most snow sports, will be staged in PyeongChang, while alpine skiing events will be contested in Jeongseon, some 215 kilometers east of Seoul.
Gangneung, a coastal city in Gangwon Province, will host all ice sports during the Paralympics.
In this file photo taken Oct. 26, 2017, athletes and officials pose for a group photo at a launch ceremony for the South Korean delegation for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics at Icheon Training Center in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)
The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games estimates some 50 countries will send about 1,700 athletes and officials to take part in its Paralympics. They will vie for 80 gold medals at stake in six sports.
However, it's still doubtful whether countries like Russia and North Korea can participate in the PyeongChang Paralympics. Russia is currently dealing with a state-sponsored doping scandal, while North Korea has yet to make any notable movement to compete south of the border.
The North doesn't even have an athlete registered in the International Paralympic Committee database. South Korea is hoping for North Korean participation in the Winter Games to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
At the PyeongChang Paralympics, 78 gold medals are up for grabs in four snow sports -- para alpine skiing, para snowboard, para biathlon and para cross-country skiing. Two ice sports -- para ice hockey and wheelchair curling -- offer one gold medal each.
South Korea aims to finish inside the top 10 with four medals -- one gold, one silver and two bronze medals -- at the Winter Paralympics at home. The country has so far collected only two silver medals in the seven Winter Paralympic Games and has yet to win a gold medal.
Alpine skier Han Sang-min became the first South Korean to claim a Winter Paralympic medal in 2002, when he took silver in giant slalom LW12 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The national wheelchair curling team also won silver at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics.
With the home-field advantage, South Korea should have a great opportunity to pick up medals at the PyeongChang Paralympics.
South Korea is looking to compete in all six sports and a maximum 39 athletes are expected to compete, helped by 50 coaches and officials, the largest number in the country's Paralympics history. At the 2014 Sochi Paralympics, South Korea sent 27 athletes.
Para-Nordic skier Sin Eui-hyun, para-alpine skier Yang Jae-rim, and the wheelchair curling and para-ice hockey teams are considered medal contenders for South Korea at the PyeongChang Games.
The South Korean national team for the Paralympic Games was officially launched last month and athletes have been following training regiments. The Korea Paralympic Committee said high-tech facilities and equipment have been used to help athletes, while researchers from the Korea Institute of Sport Science also joined to help them.
"We want to achieve our best ever Paralympics performance in PyeongChang, so that we can meet the people's expectations and pave the way for disabled sports in South Korea," said Bae Dong-hyun, who will serve as chef de mission for the South Korean Paralympic delegation. "We will try to collect four medals, including one gold, to finish inside the top 10."
Meanwhile, the flame for the PyeongChang Paralympics will first be lit in five locations in the country -- Anyang, Nonsan, Gochang, Cheongdo and Jeju Island -- on March 2 and the lighting of the fire will also take place in three cities overseas, including Stoke Mandeville in Britain, the birthplace of the Paralympic Games. Under the theme "Center of Shining," the organizers said the eight flames will be united on March 3 at Seoul Olympic Park's World Peace Gate, where the first Paralympic torch relay started in 1988.
The torch will have an eight-day tour in South Korea until March 9 and will cover 80 kilometers. The organizers said 800 torch bearers will participate in the relay with an additional 218 support runners.
POCOG said since the Paralympic spirit is about creating infinite possibilities, the relay tried to incorporate the infinity symbol (∞) in the form of the number "8." (Yonhap)