North Korea In Focus As Biggest Winter Paralympics 2018 Set To Open
Among the record 567 athletes will be 30 neutral competitors from Russia, which remains suspended by the IPC over a mass doping scandal.
North Korea's athletes will take centre-stage at the Winter Paralympics opening ceremony in South Korea on Friday after a rapid round of diplomacy hit dizzying heights. Cross-country skiers Kim Jong Hyon and Ma Yu Chol will enter as North Korea's first Winter Paralympians as the world digests US President Donald Trump's landmark offer to meet Kim Jong Un. The wheelchair-bound skiers will appear at the same temporary stadium in Pyeongchang, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) from the heavily fortified inter-Korean border, where Kim Jong Un's sister attended the opening of last month's Winter Olympics.
It proved to be the trigger for a series of conciliatory steps between the two Koreas, who remain technically a war, culminating in Thursday's announcement at the White House.
North Korea's first Winter Paralympians will not appear alongside South Korea's team, as happened at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, after a row over the blue-and-white Korean unification flag.
North Korea pulled out of the joint march after South Korea decided to remove islands claimed by Japan from the flag, which depicts the Korean peninsula.
But the disagreement is considered a minor sticking point after what has been a swift thaw between the neighbours, starting with North Korea's decision in January to participate in the Olympics.
"The participation of North Korea and the two cross-country skiers is extremely significant and sends out a strong message of peace through sport," said International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons this week.
It is quite a turnaround from last year, when Pyongyang tested missiles that could reach the US mainland and detonated what it said was an H-bomb, sparking fury from Trump who threatened to "completely destroy" the North.
Also among the record 567 athletes will be 30 neutral competitors from Russia, which remains suspended by the IPC over a mass doping scandal.
Parsons has defended the decision to allow Russians to take part -- they were banned entirely at the Rio 2016 Paralympics -- insisting those competing are "as clean as any others" at the Games.
During the nine-day Games, athletes will compete in 80 medal events in six sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice hockey, snowboard and wheelchair curling.
Some of the adapted sports have become hits with spectators, such as fast and furious para ice hockey where competitors slide around on double-bladed sledges.
As well as North Korea, Georgia and Tajikistan are also taking part for the first time.
Paralympians are an eclectic bunch, ranging from a 61-year-old Japanese ice hockey goaltender to a Mexican who found unlikely success as mono-skier.
American snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, who lost her right leg below the knee, made headlines when she featured in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.