World-class swimmers have arrived, tickets are almost sold out, safety precautions have been taken, and venues have been prepared as Gwangju puts the finishing touches on hosting the FINA World Championships 2019, slated for kick off on Friday to be continued until July 28.
The entries for this year’s event closed last week with 2,639 athletes from 194 countries throwing in their hats to compete under the slogan “Dive into Peace.” They will be vying for 76 gold medals across six disciplines and 76 events.
South Korean divers, Woo Ha-ram (left) and Kim Yeong-nam, practice at the Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center in Gwangju on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korean delegation is the largest-ever with 82 swimmers in 70 events, with their first-ever representation in the open water swimming and water polo competitions. Despite missing its biggest swimming star in history Park Tae-hwan, hopes of South Koreans are riding high on Kim Seo-yeong, regarded as the next big star in Korean swimming.
The host country will face a tough task in its quest to win its first medal since 2011, with world-class superstars like Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel, Katinka Hosszu, Gary Hunt and Svetlana Kolesnichenko taking part. Park’s former rival Sun Yang of China will attempt to make history by becoming the first man to win four consecutive world championship titles in a single event.
One pack of swimmers that may miss the championships are the North Koreans, who have already missed the deadline for registration. As of Thursday morning, Pyongyang has yet to respond to calls by the South -- including a personal invitation from Gwangju Mayor Lee Yong-sup -- to join the swimming competition.
Both the city and the organizing committee for the world championship have agreed with FINA to leave the door open for the North Koreans until the very last minute.
The opening ceremony is slated for Friday, but the series of events on the eve of the championships on Wednesday heralded the 17 days of festivities.
On Thursday, a K-pop concert was held from 7:10 p.m. to 9:40 p.m. at May 18 Democracy Square, featuring Korean singers including Koyote, Mad Clown, Lee Hi, Dal Soobin, Kim Yon-ja and Winner. Other events were lined up at the square and across the Geumnam-ro area, the symbol of the country’s democracy and fighting ground for the pro-democracy protestors during the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement of 1980.
After part one of the concerts, a rehearsal for the “water-mixing” ceremony -- which literally mixes water from all across the world -- took place. The ceremony is expected to be the highlight of the opening ceremony.
The opening ceremony on Friday will kick off the events that will be held across six disciplines of swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, open water and high diving, at five venues -- Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, Nambu University Water Polo Competition Venue, Yeomju Gym. Artistic Swimming Competition Venue, Chosun University High Diving Competition Venue, Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park Open Water Swimming Competition Venue.
While most events will be held in Gwangju, the open water events will be held at the nearby coastal city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province.
Organizers said that they had sold 315,000 of 419,000 tickets as of Wednesday, with events like the opening ceremony, high diving and open water swimming being sold out. The remaining tickets will be sold at the venues, via the homepage of the event, and also at 20 train stations across the country including Seoul, Yongsan, Cheongnyangni, Suwon and Daejeon.
Providing a helping hand to the athletes and visitors for the event will be 3,126 volunteers. They will also be aided by the free Wi-Fi that is available on all city buses in Gwangju.
More information about the event is availble at the homepage of the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju (https://www.gwangju2019.com), provided in Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese and French.
By Yoon Min-sik (email@example.com