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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics unfurled in frigid temperatures and high spirits on Friday, as athletes from the two Koreas marched into the stadium together significantly less than 50 miles from the heavily-fortified border amongst their nations, supplying hope of a breakthrough in a tense, geopolitical standoff that has stirred fears of nuclear conflict.
The festivities began what organizers say is the largest Winter Olympics but, with 92 countries participating. The North and South Korean delegations, marching below one particular flag, embodied the hopes of a peninsula divided by history and ideology.
Whereas current Olympic Games have sought to set politics to one side, the strategic subtext of the event in Pyeongchang this year has been unavoidable.
Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, was sitting at the opening ceremony closely behind Vice President Mike Pence, who led the American delegation. Also present was the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was jailed in North Korea last year, returned property in a coma and died shortly afterward.
Earlier in the week, the United States warned against a North Korean charm offensive and announced plans to impose its toughest sanctions yet against Pyongyang, which staged a military parade featuring ICBMs just a day prior to the Games opened.
The mounting political drama loomed over other Olympic story lines, like the participation of Russian athletes in spite of a ban soon after a doping scandal, and the look of the first Nigerian contingent in the Winter Games with a women’s bobsled group. And then there are the gold medal hopefuls, like Nathan Chen, the American ice skating prodigy who might seek to land 5 quad jumps in competitors, and Chloe Kim, the teenage Korean-American snowboarding phenom.
And as if there had been not adequate distractions already, a worsening outbreak of the hugely contagious norovirus has been spreading from safety personnel to other Olympic workers.
In the prelude to the opening ceremony, North Korea dominated the news cycle. For the month given that North Korea agreed to send 22 athletes and an entourage of artistic performers and dignitaries to the Games, the news media has been riveted by an advance go to by one particular of North Korea’s most celebrated pop stars, the arrival of North Korean cheerleaders in matching red wool coats, and controversies over regardless of whether the North’s participation in the Olympics would violate international sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear weapons improvement.
And Mr. Pence’s pay a visit to — which incorporated a meeting Friday with North Korean defectors — exposed deepening strains in ties in between the longtime allies, as he suggested that South Korea curtail ties to the North after the Olympics end. Mr. Pence also did not attend a state dinner near the Olympics website, which meant he avoided spending time with the North Korean delegation.
But South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, appears to see the Games as central to his work to proactively engage North Korea and persuade the reclusive country to enter into negotiations to scale back its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
“Many regarded as it an not possible dream to have an Olympics of peace, in which North Korea would participate and the two Koreas would form a joint team,” Mr. Moon said in an address to the International Olympic Committee this week.
Friday’s opening ceremony, directed by Song Seung-whan, a South Korean actor and popular theatrical creator, sought to project a vision of unification and peace on the extended-divided peninsula.
“As a beginning point, Korea is the only divided nation in the world,” Mr. Song stated in an interview hours prior to the ceremony started. He stated that even although North Korea was not expected to attend when he began organizing the ceremony’s themes, “we started with peace in thoughts.”
“Of course it was a surprise,” he mentioned of the North’s decision to join the Games. “It will be an opportunity for the peace we had been thinking of to be shown to the world in a a lot more deep way.”
Even though athletes from the two Koreas marched beneath a unified flag, a group of traditionally-dressed dancers and drummers formed the shape of the Taegeuk, the standard pattern that seems on the South Korean flag. And a paean to technological developments in artificial intelligence highlighted South Korean achievements.
A backlash against the last-minute participation of North Korea, particularly the addition of a dozen North Korean women’s ice hockey players onto the roster of the South Korean team, cast a shadow over a moment that was meant to exemplify unity.
“Instead of paying attention to all of the outstanding athletes who are coming from all over the planet, we are paying all our attention to the inter-Korean women’s hockey team,” Elisa Lee, a former table tennis champion and coach for South Korea and a former member of the National Assembly, said in an interview this week in Seoul. “I believe it’s a small bit unfortunate.”
Critics also feared that in looking for far better ties with North Korea, Mr. Moon had compromised as well a lot.
“Bending to a dictator like Kim Jong-un is in conflict with the dignity” of South Koreans, wrote Yoon Pyung-joong, a professor of political philosophy at Hanshin University, in an editorial this month in Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean daily. “The crisis on the Korean Peninsula does not get resolved with a one particular-off occasion like sports games or an inter-Korean summit meeting.”
But the emotion of watching the Koreas march under the exact same flag moved some spectators. A lot more than one hundred South Koreans watching on a reside stream on a screen in central Seoul applauded and cheered even though watching that moment.
Kim Tae-yoon, 21, a media research student from Cheonan, said that he had been dubious about the North Koreans participating in the games.
“I wondered no matter whether any of our efforts would be a step towards unification when we could really properly just be utilised for North Korean propaganda,” Mr. Kim stated. “But the two Koreas marching together looked very good. I hope that the Pyeongchang Olympics will be remembered as one exactly where we showed the planet that we communicated well with North Korea.”
Possibly the most stirring moment of the evening came when the penultimate torch bearers had been revealed as Chung Su-hyon, a North Korean player for the unified Korean hockey team, and Park Jong-ah, a South Korean player. The pair carried the torch up the final flight of actions and handed it off to Yuna Kim, the profoundly well-known South Korean figure skater who won the gold medal in 2010 and the silver medal in 2014.
This event was not the very first time that athletes from North and South Korea have marched with each other under 1 flag. They did so in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics in Australia, in 2004 in Athens, and in 2006 in Torino, Italy.
But by carrying out so in South Korea — and in Gangwon Province, exactly where North Korea is visible from the peaks of the ski slopes — the symbolism this time was particularly striking. It also supplied a stark contrast to the 1988 Summer time Olympic Games in Seoul, exactly where the North Koreans did not compete soon after organizing a terrorist attack in which spies blew up a South Korean airliner 10 months before the Games, killing absolutely everyone on board.
The Seoul Olympics ended up being a turning point for South Korea as it pulled away from North Korea economically, politically and culturally.
It was also, as it turned out, a turning point for the planet. Soon after two prior summer games roiled by political boycotts in Moscow and Los Angeles, the nations that had sat out those games all sent athletes to Seoul, generating it the host of the biggest number of participating nations throughout the Cold War era.
A year later, the Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union collapsed not long after that.
“In a sense, the Cold War symbolically ended with the Seoul Olympics,” mentioned Lee O. Young, creative director of the 1988 opening ceremony, in an interview in his library in Seoul this week.
Mr. Lee, whose slogan for those ceremonies was “beyond the wall,” said that he believed in the power of imagination to drive modify.
“The Pyeongchang Olympics, in very surprising techniques, could be another turning point in the way the Seoul Olympics was,” said Mr. Lee. “After the Seoul Olympics, we have been experiencing a new Cold War, and the Pyeongchang Olympics may well set yet another milestone.”
Published at Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:32:29 +0000