The 18th edition of the Winter Deaflympics has officially begun with the Opening Ceremony in the Russian resort of Khanty-Mansiysk today.
Around 450 athletes from 27 countries are expected to compete at the event, which runs from today until April 5.
This year's Deaflympics, the first to be held since Salt Lake City played host in 2007, will see 31 medals up for grabs across five sports incorporating ice hockey, curling, cross-country skiing and snowboard.
All events will take place in Khanty-Mansisyk apart from the downhill skiing, which will be staged in Magnitogorsk as the Deaflympics come to Russia for the first time.
In a message posted on the Deaflympics website, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach believes hosting the Games continues Russia's sporting development after Sochi staged the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"After the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games held in Sochi in 2014, the Winter Deaflympics underline the growing role of Russia as a major sports event-organising nation," he wrote.
"To all the athletes, I would like to thank you for your tenacity and enthusiasm.
"You are a real source of inspiration for many of your peers, in particular the young generation as well as to the public around the world."
Bach's sentiments were echoed by Russian President Vladmir Putin, who welcomed athletes, spectators and organisers to the resort ahead of the Opening Ceremony.
"For the first time Russia is hosting this prestigious international competition that is unique both in terms of its scale and its inspirational and creative power," said Putin in a message.
"We take special responsibility in organising and hosting these Games, and we strive to make every participant feel comfortable in Khanty-Mansiysk and Magnitogorsk, perform well and achieve the goals set."
The Games, first held in Seefeld in Norway in 1949, has been plagued with difficulties after Vancouver in Canada decided to pull out of hosting this year's edition owing to problems with local organisers.
But Russia stepped in to stage the event, and action starts tomorrow with men's and women's curling, snowboard slopestyle, ice hockey and women's freestyle and skiathlon cross country events.
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