SEOUL: Around 2,300 mentally disabled athletes have gathered in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang for the opening Tuesday of the 2013 Special Winter Olympics.
The eight-day event will see athletes from 110 countries competing in disciplines including alpine and cross-country skiing and figure and short-track speed skating, as well as hockey and snowboarding.
Among the participating countries, seven Asian nations including Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam will take part in the event for the first time.
The host nation has the largest delegation, with 169 athletes and 67 officials.
The chairwoman of the organising committee, Na Kyung-Won -- a two-term lawmaker who has a daughter with Down's Syndrome -- said she hoped the event would mark a sea change in the way Korean society views the mentally disabled.
"Society doesn't improve gradually. Instead, events drastically change the world we live in," Na said.
"This Olympics will make such a miracle happen," she added.
Myanmar democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi will attend Tuesday's opening ceremony and give the keynote speech at a Global Development Summit taking place on the sidelines.
Pyeongchang is the host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The Special Olympics, which are separate from the Paralympics for physically handicapped athletes, began in 1968. They have formally been recognised by the International Olympic Committee since 1988.
Any mentally handicapped athlete over the age of eight can take part in the games. (AFP)