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Gwangju kicks off 17 days of swimming festivities at World Championships

July 12, 2019 - 22:57 By Yoon Min-sik
Kwangju Women’s University Universiade Gymnasium opened three hours before the official opening ceremony began at 8:20 p.m., with the anticipation for the FINA World Championships riding high in the sunny skies above Gwangju.

The 18th World Aquatics Championships, the first to be held in South Korea, officially commenced with an opening ceremony on Friday. The event will feature 2,639 swimmers from 194 countries competing across six disciplines and 76 events until July 28.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the ceremony and declared the opening of the competition, giving a standing ovation to the competitors before doing so.
The opening ceremony of the 18th FINA World Championship is being held at the Kwangju Women`s University Universiade Gymnasium in Gwangju on Friday. (Yonhap)

The opening ceremony of the 18th FINA World Championship is being held at the Kwangju Women`s University Universiade Gymnasium in Gwangju on Friday. (Yonhap)

The ceremony was a sight to behold, with a light show projecting the image of a fountain throughout the indoor arena. This “Fountain of Light” was inspired by the iconic fountain at the May 18 Democracy Square in the city center.

The story behind the fountain is both inspiring and harrowing: This is where the Gwangju Democratic Uprising took place in 1980. It is where the standoff occurred between the soldiers of the iron-fisted military regime and the citizens, and where a subsequent mass shooting by the military heralded the bloody struggles in the days to come.

It was into this very fountain that the children of Gwangju poured water gathered from all over the world, carrying the message that the “light of Gwangju” can purify water contaminated by human greed and lead to peace and prosperity.

The image of the fountain, broadcast from the square into the arena, transitioned to an image of the polluted ocean. But the filthy water was purified with the light of Gwangju.

“The three key words of the ceremony are: one, the water -- the symbol of the aquatic championships; two, the spirit of democracy, human rights and peace; and three, the culture and art of Gwangju,” said Yoon Jeong-seob, the director of the opening and closing ceremonies. “The program (of the opening ceremony) carries the message that the water gathered from around the world meets with Gwangju’s light to solve many problems of the world, such as pollution.”

Peace is the message that the organizers hope to convey in the remaining days of the event, evident in its slogan: “Dive into peace.” It was, after all, in this very city that the citizens fought with their lives for peace and democracy.

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo arrived in Gwangju earlier in the day to check the last-second preparations for the event.

A number of musicians performed at the ceremony, including renowned pansori singer Song Soon-seob, gugak fusion band Jaebi singing Korean traditional music, pop singer Sohyang and songwriter Kim Jong-ryul, who composed the song “March for the Beloved” -- the unofficial anthem of those who fought for democracy against dictatorial regimes in the 1980s.

The Gwangju World Championships will bring swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, open-water swimming and high diving to five venues in the region. While most events will be held in Gwangju, the open-water events will take place in the nearby coastal city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province.

By Yoon Min-sik