Despite the pageantry of the opening ceremony, politics still takes center stage

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

PYEONCHANG, South Korea – A rumbling sound drifted through the stands at Olympic Stadium, soon growing to a roar, the crowd finally stirring on a wind-chilled night.

Nothing about the opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Games -- not the music or the light shows, certainly not the speeches -- carried quite as much charge as the entrance of the Korean athletes.

This wasn't just the home team marching onto the field; this was a combined squad from the North and South, from neighboring countries that have endured decades of uneasy armistice.

"We are all touched by this wonderful gesture," said Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee. "We all join and support you in your message of peace."

The moment confirmed what should have been evident -- if you hold the Games in the middle of the Korean peninsula, sport cannot help being drawn into politics.

Even as the athletes bounced across the field, dressed in sparkling white coats, waving and throwing their arms in the air, there was intrigue in the dignitaries' box above.

There, Vice President Mike Pence sat just feet from the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The two never shook hands or spoke, according to Pence's office, but the optics were startling nonetheless.

All week long, it seemed that Olympic organizers understood the circumstances.

"Sport cannot lead the policy in the political arena," said Lee Hee-beom, president of the organizing committee. "But we are aiming for a 'Peace' Olympic Games."

Friday night's two-hour ceremony, which began 17 days of competition in this mountainous region 50 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, echoed that sentiment with the story of five children moving toward a "peace envisioned by Koreans."


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