Korea has pulled off another sports miracle in Canada. The national wheelchair curling team won its first silver medal at the 2010 Winter Paralympics and the countrys first medal in a team event at the tournament. The silver medal was as well earned as the gold medals won by Korean athletes such as Kim Yu-na, Mo Tae-bum, Lee Sang-hwa, Lee Seung-hoon and Lee Jung-su in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Kudos go to wheelchair curling coach Kim Woo-taek and athletes Kang Mi-sook, Kim Myeong-jin, Gam Hak-seong and Cho Yang-hyun, who defied all odds on their wheelchairs to win. They deserve a hearty applause from Korea.
Wheelchair curling was introduced to Korea seven years ago. Despite a low level of interest in unfamiliar ice sports and a small athlete pool, the wheelchair curling team beat competitors from Europe and North America, the traditional strongholds of the sport, with strong willpower and skills.
The first Korean wheelchair curling team was formed in August 2003, but faced challenges right from the start. For example, finding a curling rink was difficult. Athletes were forced to practice on the surface of a frozen swimming pool in a training center for the disabled in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, ahead of the Vancouver Winter Paralympics. Such poor training infrastructure did not deter them, however. In their first Winter Paralympics, they pulled off a furious rally against curling powerhouse Canada in the final. Korea quickly fell behind 8-1 early in the match, but rallied hard in its eventual 8-7 loss. Given that the Canadian teams leader has 52 years of experience and that Canada has one curling rink for every 3,000 people, Korea put up a good fight. Canadian fans also gave a warm round of applause to the Korean team at the end of the match.
Athletes who became disabled due to industrial disasters or accidents never gave up on practice despite struggling to earn a living on national pension. Coach Kim, a dentist who volunteered to lead the national team despite his lack of athletic experience, said he felt that someone had to do it.
Earlier this month, Korea finished the Vancouver Winter Olympics with a national record 14 medals, ranking fifth overall and first in Asia. If the Winter Olympics is a festival of rich nations, the Winter Paralympics is a measure of a nations dignity because it demonstrates the strong willpower and social participation of the disabled.
The world might not be as cold and harsh as many think. The challenge-loving spirit and commitment of the Korean Paralympians who did their best despite their disabilities and poor conditions have set good example for all Koreans. Korea has added to its sports legend twice in Vancouver. The nation would do well to learn from these accomplishments.