Six years after hosting the Winter Olympic Games, the South Korean eastern province of Gangwon will be back in the winter sports spotlight this month, as it stages the fourth edition of the Winter Youth Olympics.
The youth competition will open Jan. 19 and wrap up Feb. 1. It will be the first Winter Youth Olympics to take place outside Europe, after Austria, Norway and Switzerland took turns.
The 2024 Winter Youth Olympics will use many of the venues from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, making it a cost-effective event. The list includes venues for ski jumping, biathlon, cross-country skiing and sliding events in PyeongChang, some 130 kilometers east of Seoul, and the ones for all ice events -- figure skating, speed skating, short track, curling and hockey -- in Gangneung, about 30 kilometers east of PyeongChang.
Gangwon 2024 will host 1,900 athletes from 79 nations. They will be competing in 81 events across seven sports and 15 disciplines, under the motto "Grow Together, Shine Forever."
The host South Korea and the United States will have the largest delegation with 102 athletes each.
All events, except for the opening ceremony in Gangneung, will have free admission, though spectators are still encouraged to make online reservation before their visits.
With a heightened focus on cultural education and exchange for young athletes, the International Olympic Committee awards medals to athletes but doesn't officially keep track of the medal race. The IOC also covers travel expenses for athletes and their coaches.
Throughout the Winter Youth Olympics, host cities of PyeongChang, Gangneung, Jeongseon and Hoengseong will host a wide variety of cultural events, including K-pop shows, dance performances and taekwondo demonstrations.
For those more inclined toward athletic competition, there will be no shortage of promising homegrown athletes to follow.
Two teen snowboarding sensations, Choi Gaon and Lee Chae-un, will get to showcase their talent in front of the home crowd.
Choi, 15, is fresh off her first senior International Ski and Snowboard Federation Snowboard World Cup title in women's halfpipe in Colorado last month. In March 2022, Choi had also won gold in halfpipe at the FIS Junior World Championships. In January 2023, she became the youngest superpipe champion in X Games history at 14 years and three months.
Lee, 17, made history last March with his halfpipe gold at the FIS World Championships. He became the first South Korean to win a world title in any skiing or snowboarding discipline, and also the youngest male snowboard gold medalist ever in world championships.
The 15-year-old figure skater Shin Ji-a, a two-time World Junior Figure Skating Championships silver medalist in the women's singles, is a medal favorite in Gangwon. She also has two International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix Final silver medals and three Junior Grand Prix gold medals to her credit. Shin isn't yet old enough to compete at senior ISU events but will be eligible for the next Winter Olympics in 2026.
On the men's side, Kim Hyun-gyeom, the reigning Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist, will go for his first Winter Youth Olympics medal.
As a longtime short track powerhouse, South Korea continues to churn out impressive talent in the sport. Kang Min-ji, 15, has won a couple of medals during the ongoing ISU Junior World Cup Short Track Speed Skating season, emerging with a bronze in the women's 500 meters ahead of older skaters at the second World Cup stop in the Netherlands last month.
South Korean short tracker Hwang Dae-heon, American snowboarder Chloe Kim and Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu are among past Winter Youth Olympic champions who went on to take gold medals at Winter Olympics. (Yonhap)