Opening ceremony launches Winter Olympics in S. Korea

PyeongChang, Feb 9 (IANS) The PyeongChang Olympic Stadium ushered in the 23rd Winter Games on Friday with a glittering opening ceremony that saw athletes from both South and North Korea, two countries who have technically been at war for 65 years, marching together under a unified Korean flag showing a blue, borderless country. A shirtless Tongan flag-bearer in freezing temperature and 169 Russian athletes set to compete as neutrals were the other highlights.

Among the 25,000 spectators who witnessed the colourful, light-filled event were Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the honorary president of North Korea, Kim Yong-nam, as well as South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Vice President of the United States Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, reports Efe news agency.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have been at the forefront of international efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, which saw Pyongyang carry out a series of missile tests last year.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday echoed the sentiments of International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who last month said the Games could send “the message of peace” after the IOC had approved the two Koreas’ request to march jointly under the same flag for the first time since Turin in 2006.

“If there is a true symbol of peace in the world, that is the Olympic spirit,” Guterres said.

The ceremony was also notable for the absence of an official Russian delegation after Russia and the Russian Olympic Committee were banned from attending the Games over the doping scandal which rocked the last Winter Olympics, held in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

The Russian athletes were invited by the International Olympic Committee to compete under the Olympic flag.

Pita Taufatofua of Tonga, who had attended the Rio de Janeiro Opening Ceremony with his bare torso slathered in coconut oil, astonished crowds as he repeated his entry despite the freezing conditions which were also stoically borne by the delegation from Bermuda, who wore the Caribbean island’s eponymous shorts.

The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games run from February 9-25, although several sporting events, including mixed doubles’ curling, qualifying heats for the moguls in freestyle skiing, and the team figure skating competition, have already begun.



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