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Pyeongchang Olympics open with a show of fire, ice and unity, with calls for harmony during the Winter Games

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the first Games held in South Korea in 30 years, officially opened on Friday with fireworks, song and symbolism featured amid celebrations of light, peace, and harmony.

With nods to the country's landmarks and ancient culture as well as its potential to lead the world in future technological innovations, the opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium featured athletes from 91 countries, including a delegation from North Korea that marched into Olympic Stadium with athletes from South Korea. Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un; U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were among the powerful political and sports figures who attended the extravaganza on a chilly night.

The two Koreas marched in behind a white flag that was emblazoned with a map of the Korean peninsula depicted in blue. North Korean women's hockey player Hwang Chung-gum and South Korean bobsleigh pilot Won Yun-jong both clutched the flag pole in a noteworthy display of unity. The two nations have marched together at an Olympics but this time have taken the extraordinary step of combining on the composition of the women's hockey team.

The two Koreas marched in behind a white flag that was emblazoned with a map of the Korean peninsula depicted in blue. North Korean women's hockey player Hwang Chung-gum and South Korean bobsleigh pilot Won Yun-jong both clutched the flag pole in a noteworthy display of unity. The two nations have marched together at an Olympics but this time have taken the extraordinary step of combining on the composition of the women's hockey team.

Through the eyes of five local children, organizers presented a journey through the country's past and future, showcasing the mythical White Tiger, Blue Dragon, Vermilion Bird and Black Tortoise. The show was designed to emphasize the connection between people and nature and the need for peace in the world and was replete with dancers and wonderfully crafted oversized animals.

A handful of sports had previously begun qualifying rounds or actual competition, but the Opening Ceremony serves as an occasion for athletes to gather and celebrate their similarities, rather than their differences and rivalries.

The athletes entered the stadium according to their names as rendered in Korean with the exception of Greece, whose athletes, by tradition, enter first in tribute to the nation that held the Olympic Games in ancient times and revived them for modern times in 1896. The U.S. delegation numbers 244 but not all athletes participated because of their training or competition schedules. The red, white, and blue-clad group was led into the stadium by flag bearer Erin Hamlin of Remsen, N.Y., a 2014 luge bronze medalist. With Russia banned from the Games because of its past systematic, state-led doping operations, athletes from that Olympic power marched under the name of Olympic Athletes from Russia and were preceded by a flag emblazoned with the Olympic rings.

 

And the well-oiled, shirtless Tongan flag bearer from the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Pita Taufatofua, again delighted the crowd by marching shirtless and well-oiled in temperatures that didn't much exceed 20 degrees. He competed in taekwando at the Rio Olympics and will compete in cross-country skiing here as his country's only representative.

Athletes smiled and waved and, of course, took selfies as they paraded around the stadium and to their seats in the stands. "You will inspire us," Bach said, adding that competing as clean athletes would be imperative for athletes to respect their sports and each other. He also praised the Koreans' cooperation at the Games. "We all join and support you in your message of peace," he said.

After Bach's remarks, Moon Jae-in, the president of the Republic of Korea, declared the Games open. His words touched off a show of colorful lights and fireworks, and exultant music. The Olympic flag was carried into the stadium by eight Korean athletes of varying age, all wearing traditional costumes, and the Olympic oath was administered. Ending a 101-day torch relay that involved 7,500 torchbearers, the Olympic flame entered the stadium and the Olympic cauldron was ignited by Korean figure skater Yuna Kim, the 2010 Olympic women's figure skating champion and 2014 silver medalist. The flame will burn throughout the Games.

(c)2018 Los Angeles Times

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