PYEONGCHANG, South Korea >> The opening ceremony of the biggest Winter Paralympics yet unfolded Friday night with a glittering performance that championed a world of coexistence where differences are embraced and understood.
In a spectacle that featured a rhythmic drum dance, projections of fish and animals coming to life and a boat symbolically powered by the equipment used in Paralympic games, a record 567 athletes paraded into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium to officially commence the 10-day festival that runs through March 18.
A cheery mood coursed through festivities that lacked the tension of the 2014 Sochi Paralympics, when Ukraine sent only its flag-bearer to the opening ceremony to protest Russia’s intervention in the Crimean Peninsula, or the undertones of the 2016 Rio Paralympics, which were stained by financial turmoil and meager ticket sales.
The doping scandal that ensnared Russia then has persisted, however, with only members of its delegation whom the International Paralympic Committee considered clean of any doping history permitted to compete here under a neutral flag.
And unlike at the Olympic opening ceremony last month, when athletes from the two Koreas entered the stadium as a unified delegation, the nations marched separately after failing to agree Thursday on conditions for a dual march.
Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, said in a statement that North Korea’s presence was a pivotal moment for the Paralympic movement and that he hoped that “the focus can now be on the performances of Para athletes on the field of play, not the politics off it.”
Representing 48 nations, plus the Neutral Paralympic Athlete delegation, athletes will contend in 80 medal events across six sports: Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, Para ice hockey, snowboard and wheelchair curling.
The United States, with 68 athletes, brought the largest team, followed by Canada (52) and Japan (38), while Georgia and Tajikistan joins North Korea in making their Winter Paralympic debuts.
Competition begins Saturday.