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(Olympics) Undersized S. Korean delegation led by medal contenders as co-flag bearers

All News 22:32 February 04, 2022

By Yoo Jee-ho

BEIJING, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- With two of its medal hopefuls leading the way, the South Korean delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics joined Friday's opening ceremony as the 73rd country in the parade of 91 participating nations.

Short track speed skaters Kwak Yoon-gy and Kim A-lang were the co-flag bearers for South Korea, which had 11 athletes and 28 officials on hand at the National Stadium to celebrate the start of the 2022 Winter Games.

South Korea will have 65 athletes competing in six out of seven sports overall. Those staying in Zhangjiakou, which will host events such as snowboard and biathlon some 180 kilometers northwest of Beijing, skipped the ceremony, citing travel issues and possible disruption to their preparation.

South Korean athletes and officials enter the National Stadium in Beijing during the opening ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

Aside from the two flag bearers, there were three lugers, five bobsledders and one figure skater at the ceremony for South Korea. All ice events will be held in Beijing proper, while sliding events will be contested in the northwestern district of Yanqing. Concerns over possible COVID-19 infection also contributed to small delegations across the board.

Kwak, 32, will be competing in his third and final Olympics. The 5,000m men's relay silver medalist from 2010 will be chasing another relay medal, as he didn't qualify for individual races.

Kim, 26, is also skating in her third Winter Games. She helped South Korea to consecutive 3,000m relay gold medals in 2014 and 2018.

South Korean athletes and officials enter the National Stadium in Beijing during the opening ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

South Korea is targeting one or two gold medals in Beijing, and will pin its hope on short track. South Korea has been the most successful country in Olympic short track history, with 24 gold medals and 48 medals overall so far.

After he was chosen as a flag bearer, Kwak, with his hair dyed bright pink, wondered aloud to the media whether he should put on a cap at the ceremony. Kwak was worried that he might rub some people in the famously conservative and stiff Korean sports community the wrong way and that he should perhaps appear more conventional for the occasion.

Kwak ultimately decided to show off his true colors. Then in a cheeky touch, Kwak and Kim hopped up and down in lockstep near the end of their parade.

Beijing 2022 is the second Olympics to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The opening ceremony for the Tokyo Summer Games last July had no spectators in the stands, with a limited number of officials and journalists present. All athletes and officials on the ground wore masks and were asked to maintain safe distance from one another.

South Korean athletes and officials enter the National Stadium in Beijing during the opening ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

Masks remained mandatory in Beijing, but gates were open ever so slightly to a few invited fans this time. Still, the opening ceremony was decidedly understated with just 3,000 performers, compared to 15,000 people performing in the lavish event that kicked off the 2008 Summer Olympics at the same National Stadium.

Greece, the birthplace of the modern Olympics, led off the parade. The host country China was the last, with Italy, the host of the next Winter Games in 2026, marching in right in front of China.

South Korean athletes and officials enter the National Stadium in Beijing during the opening ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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