Gangneung, Republic of Korea
Thursday 9 March 2017
Thursday 9 March may just be another Thursday for most people, but for athletes, coaches, volunteers, and organising committees it marks a special day of importance. For many, it’s the day that has been circled on their calendars since they first heard the words PyeongChang 2018.
It’s one year to go until the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea, being held between 9 and 18 March.
In 365 days, Paralympic teams from approximately 45 nations, representing six sports will begin the fight for a Paralympic winter game medal in 80 disciplines, being showcased to the world. Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, snowboarding, and wheelchair curling take their turns on the world stage for the big show.
To celebrate Paralympic Day along with the one year to go countdown, on Saturday 4 March the Gangneung Curling Centre was host to over 3,000 spectators who radiated positivity towards the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. That kind of turn-out is exactly what gives JP Hong, Curling Sport Manager for The PyeongChang Organising Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, confidence that in one year the Paralympic sport of wheelchair curling will be well received by global audiences.
Having the stands filled with engaged spectators is the ultimate goal for any sporting event. But, for the sport of Paralympic curling, it still faces a unique challenge that is being acknowledged and fully embraced. Wheelchair curling, which made its debut in the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Turin is still a mysterious sport to many viewers – even with 15 Member Associations having competed, across three separate Games.
Currently, the World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2017 is one of 29 test-events in the Hello PyeongChang Test Events programme for the 2018 Winter Olympics Games and Paralympic Winter Games, including five test-events for the Paralympics Games.
The objective of these test-events are simple: to welcome the people to the biggest celebration of winter sports. For wheelchair curling, Hong says it’s a priority to not only occupy the stands, but to have fans who understand the complex sport. The test-event has certainly proved to be a success, bringing out first-time viewers to hoot and holler for great shots game after game.
“I'm confident that wheelchair curling has been known to the public through this test event [ World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2017]. I'll think about the proper methods to maximise people's interest, and to make them understand and enjoy wheelchair curling,” he said.
The fans watching the games unfold this week are nothing short of enthusiastic. Following each shot, especially dramatic game determining stones, chanting and cheering is echoed from the small but mighty crowd.
This is the Gangneung Curling Centre’s second test-event for the Winter Games, following the VoIP Defender World Junior Curling Championship 2017 which was a test-event for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. The second task for the organisers, is shaping the venue to create a smooth and successful Paralympic event.
“Through test events, all Functional Areas [FAs] have learned a lot of ways how we have to cope with venues,” Hong explained.
Hong agrees the test-event has opened up opportunities for improvement, which they have been quick to jump on.
“For example, in order to broaden the dressing rooms, we broke the wall between two rooms and made it one. Also we made wheelchair ramps considering the athletes' convenient circulation.”
With preparations happening throughout the 365 days, there is one main target in mind. “I feel great responsibility to prepare the perfect environment in order for the athletes to show their best abilities. We'll be well prepared in one year.”
The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games will be take place between 9-18 March 2018.
To follow the action from the WWhCC 2017 follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #WWhCC2017 #curling #Roadto2018
by feature writer, Emily Dwyer