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Special Olympics World Winter Games conclude after eight-day run in PyeongChang

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Published : 2013-02-05 21:26
Updated : 2013-02-05 21:29

PYEONGCHANG (Yonhap News) – The 10th Special Olympics World Winter Games wrapped up Tuesday in PyeongChang, after eight days of celebrating the dreams and hopes of those with intellectual disabilities, and urging the international community to help improve the lives of the intellectually disabled.

The closing ceremony kicked off at 7 p.m. at Yongpyong Dome in PyeongChang, about 180 kilometers east of Seoul. More than 3,000 athletes and officials from 106 countries took part in this year's event, under the motto "Together, We Can." The athletes were joined by tens of thousands of families and volunteers.

PyeongChang handed over the Special Olympics flag to Los Angeles, the site of the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

The World Games alternate between summer and winter editions every two years.

After the handover, South Korean figure skating star Kim Yu-na took center stage to perform with her idol, Michelle Kwan of the United States. Their ice dance routine was choreographed to Mariah Carey's No. 1 single, "Hero." Kim and Kwan were joined by figure skaters with intellectual disabilities as they celebrated and recognized all the participants in PyeongChang as heroes in their own right.

Popular Korean music groups, Wonder Girls, f(x) and EXO-K, put the finishing touches to the ceremony.

Before the closing festivities, participants paid tribute to Gareth Derek Cowin, a floor hockey player from the Isle of Man who died last Thursday. Cowin, 25, died of refractory septic shock after taking part in an activity outside the competition.

Athletes put on a performance at the closing ceremony of the 10th Special Olympics World Winter in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

The Special Olympics World Games are open to anyone over the age of 8 with an intellectual disability. Athletes here competed in eight sports. The top three finishers earned medals and the rest of the participants all got ribbons. But with more emphasis placed on participation than on competition, the World Games do not keep track of medal count.

While the athletes were engaged in the action on the snow and ice, global leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, gathered on the sidelines and discussed ways to improve the plight of the intellectually disabled. In their joint statement called the "PyeongChang Declaration," issued following the Global Development Summit last week, the leaders asked the international community to offer equal opportunities to those with intellectual disabilities and to help them achieve the goal of living independently.

Na Kyung-won, the head of the local organizing committee, said merely raising awareness of the plight of the intellectually disabled was not the only goal of the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
Na Kyung-won. (Yonhap News)
"We hope this event will lead to tolerance and acceptance in the most sincere fashion," Na told Yonhap News Agency. "Thanks to this event, a lot of people are talking about the Special Olympics and the intellectually disabled. That's the first step. We have to sustain this momentum and accomplish even more after the Special Olympics."

Na, a former lawmaker with a child with Down syndrome, said athletes and volunteers should continue to take interest in those with intellectual disabilities following the Special Olympics.

"Making spontaneous changes from the heart is more important than trying to make changes with policies," Na said. "We hope the people's interest will lead to action. Maybe they will start noticing their neighbors with intellectual disabilities, or companies will start hiring more people with intellectual disabilities."

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spoke of the need to offer more life choices for the marginalized people with intellectual disabilities, saying they deserve "opportunity, not charity."

"They should be included at all levels," she said during the Global Development Summit. "Getting to participate is an important step on the road to enjoying all human rights."

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