Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang officially begin with colourful opening ceremony

The opening ceremony at the 2018 Winter Paralympics
Great Britain has 17 athletes competing at the 2018 Winter Paralympics
Winter Paralympics on the BBC
Venue: Pyeongchang, South Korea Dates: 9-18 March Time in Pyeongchang: GMT +9
Coverage: Follow on Radio 5 live and via the BBC Sport website. Television coverage on Channel 4.

The largest ever Winter Paralympics were officially opened in freezing conditions at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Forty-eight different nations, plus a neutral Paralympic athletes team consisting of Russian competitors, entered the stadium in -5C temperatures.

A record 567 athletes will take part across nine days of competition.

Snowboarder Owen Pick led the British team into the arena as flagbearer.

ParalympicsGB has sent a 17-strong team of athletes, though only snowboarders Pick, Ben Moore and James Barnes-Miller, and 2014 gold-medal-winning visually impaired skier Kelly Gallagher and her guide Gary Smith attended the ceremony. The remaining athletes compete on Saturday.

The $106m 35,000-seater stadium, which will be pulled down after the closing ceremony, appeared to be about two thirds full, and the crowd watched a ceremony consisting of traditional Korean dance, combined with modern music and blended with light shows.

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Eight years ago I was fighting for this flag - Pick

Large North Korean party enters

Unlike at last month's Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes walked under one united flag, the two countries could not strike a similar arrangement for the Paralympics opening ceremony.

Instead, a North Korean party of 18 representatives walked with their own flag to mark their first appearance at a Winter Paralympics, although there are only two athletes competing - both in cross-country skiing - with the rest of the group made up of officials.

There was no notable reaction for the North Korean entrance from the crowd, who were polite but subdued for most of the evening. The loudest moment came when the South Korean athletes entered the arena to complete the athlete parade.

There was also a positive reaction when one athlete from North Korea and one from South Korea held the Paralympic flame aloft together before handing it over to start a relay which culminated with a South Korean single-leg amputee abseiling up a ski slope before the cauldron was lit.

The opening ceremony at the 2018 Winter Paralympics
North Korea and South Korea appeared under their own countries' flags at the parade. North Korea's flag bearer is ice hockey player Hwang Chung-gum

There was barely a reaction when the Russian athletes entered the arena under a neutral flag and the team name neutral Paralympic athletes, after the nation was banned following a report which found evidence of state-sponsored doping.

The USA has the largest contingent of athletes the Games, with 68, and were also greeted with a loud cheer.

The British team were depleted by the number of athletes involved in competition on Saturday, but World Championship silver medallist Pick, a former soldier who had his leg amputated after being injured in Afghanistan, led from the front.

He was ably supported by the energetic dancing and bouncing of Gallagher, who in Sochi four years ago became the first Briton to win a gold medal on snow at either a Paralympics or Olympics.

The opening ceremony at the 2018 Winter Paralympics
Host nation South Korea have 36 athletes competing

K-pop and skateboards

The ceremony itself, after the athlete parade, was sprayed with flashes of colour and featured a young girl directing illuminated fish as they swam in the arena floor, joyful children on sledges and boats, giant snowmen and a skateboarding mascot.

One of the most memorable moments featured a DJ on a large wooden wheel lifted into the air to the sound of K-pop, the modern genre of pop music famous in Korea.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons impressed the crowd by greeting them in Korean at the start of his speech, adding "Paralympic sport not only changes lives but changes the world".

The opening ceremony at the 2018 Winter Paralympics
Competition at the 2018 Winter Paralympics will start on Saturday

He was followed by South Korea president Moon Jae-in, who officially opened the Games to a backdrop of fireworks and introduced the raising of the Paralympic flag.

After the flame was lit, there was a further rendition of K-pop songs that got the crowd dancing and singing to end the ceremony.

The Paralympic cauldron was lit by Seo Soonseok of South Korea's men's wheelchair curling team, who had been handed the flame by silver medal-winning women's curling team member Kim EunJung.

What is happening on Saturday?

The sport will begin on Saturday with downhill skiing, biathlon, wheelchair curling and Para-ice hockey, with 36 medals on offer.

GB's visually impaired duo of Mille Knight and Menna Fitzpatrick, along with their guides Brett Wild and Jen Kehoe, will hope to be among the downhill medals, while Chris Lloyd and James Whitley will race in the men's event.

Elsewhere for Britain, Scott Meenagh will compete in the 7.5km biathlon and GB's wheelchair curlers start their campaign against Norway.

Mexico's sole representative at the Paralympics is Arly Aristides Velasquez Penaloza who is due to take part in the men's downhill, sitting
Mexico's one representative at the Paralympics is Arly Aristides Velasquez Penaloza, who is due to take part in the men's downhill, sitting

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