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

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on several occasions that the U.S. was behind an unfair prosecution of his country. In meetings a few days ago, IOC members argued bitterly over whether the punishment was stern enough.

All of this threatened to overshadow what ranks as the largest Winter Games, with 92 nations bringing nearly 3,000 athletes to compete in 102 medal events.

The 244-member U.S. squad arrived with a number of established stars, including snowboarder Shaun White and skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. There also were promising newcomers such as figure skater Nathan Chen and snowboarder Chloe Kim.

"That mix," team leader Alan Ashley said, "really gives us a great opportunity."

But ahead of the Games, skiing, snowboarding and skating have taken a backseat as Lee and other Olympic officials expressed hope that sports might pave the way toward better relations between the North and South.

International experts had doubts.

"What's going to be most interesting is what happens when the Games finish," said Tim Powdrill, an associate director for Risk Advisory, a London-based security management group. "The real test is whether the North Koreans launch another (test) missile when the U.S. and South Koreans hold their next military drills."

Pence added to this speculation by traveling to South Korea with Fred Warmbier, whose son Otto had been held by the North Koreans and died shortly after his release last year.

Warmbier sat a short distance from the dignitaries' box, while below, a pair of Trump and Kim impersonators made their way through the stands, drawing onlookers until ushers escorted the two away.

The ceremony ended with the Korean women's hockey players carrying the Olympic torch to the rim of the stadium where South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim ignited the cauldron.

Then came a booming display of fireworks.

In his speech to the crowd, Bach seemed to hope that once competition began in earnest this weekend, things might quiet down, allowing sports to take center stage.

"Dear athletes," he said, "now it's your turn."

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