February 09, 2018 - The Winter Olympics sparked to life in a vivid, colorful ceremony of fire and ice in South Korea on Friday, though the diplomacy was tougher to choreograph in the stadium where leaders from nations that are sworn enemies sat close together.
South Korea, which is using the PyeongChang Games to break the ice with North Korea, seated its presidential couple alongside US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, with two of the North’s most senior officials sitting in the row behind, Reuters reported.
President Moon Jae-in, who wants to harness the Olympic spirit to pave the way for talks over the North’s nuclear and missile program, warmly shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s smiling sister as well as the North’s nominal head of state.
Underlining Moon’s efforts to reengage with the North, the opening ceremony followed the story line of children wandering through a mythical landscape and discovering a world where people live in peace and harmony.
South Korea’s frigid February, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, has come as a shock to the system for athletes and visitors alike in the lead-up to these Games, prompting concerns about hypothermia at the opening ceremony.
The weather was a little milder than forecast on Friday, but spectators still huddled near heaters, holding hot packs and slurping down steaming fishcake soup to ward off the chills.
15 sports, 102 medals
Over 17 days, more than 3,000 of the world's best athletes will compete in 102-medal events in 15 sports.
Around 77% of tickets have been sold – approximately 826,000 – across the 13 venues in South Korea, BBC reported.
Heat pads, blankets, a warm seat cushion and raincoats are on offer for spectators as they prepare to watch extreme sport in extreme weather in PyeongChang, where temperatures dip below zero for a third of the year.
The Games are held around two main venues – Alpensia, the mountain resort, and Gangneung on the coast, with stand-alone venues in Bokwang and Jeongseon.
While residents of Gangneung are treated to relatively warm temperatures – ranging between 6C and -2C – the wind chill in the mountainous regions means it can feel as cold as -25C.
That would see the Games surpass the 1994 edition in Lillehammer, Norway, where temperatures dipped to -11C.
Long wait finally over
PyeongChang has waited a long time for this moment.
The alpine town first bid for the 2010 Games but narrowly lost out to Vancouver, and suffered similar heartbreak when it was beaten to the 2014 Olympics by Sochi, Reuters reported.
After announcing its arrival on the international stage by hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korea now wants to show the world just how far it has come over the last 30 years with a Games showcasing its culture and technological prowess.
According to Olympic tradition, the Greek contingent headed the parade of athletes into the open-air stadium, followed by the other delegations in order according to the Korean alphabet.