Olympics opening ceremony: How they fanned the flame of hope over two Koreas

Great Britain flag-bearer Lizzy Yarnold during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium
Great Britain flag-bearer Lizzy Yarnold during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium
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Two women stood out as the heat from the Olympic flame evaporated in the icy air of Pyeongchang today – one by her presence; the other in absentia.

Watched by Donald Trump’s vice-president, and in a gesture as unexpected as it was unparalleled, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shook hands with the South Korean president.

Fireworks are set off as the Olympic torch is lit during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in South Korea.

Fireworks are set off as the Olympic torch is lit during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in South Korea.

Kim Yo Jong, the first member of the ruling Kim dynasty to set foot in the south since the end of the Korean War, took her place with officials of both countries, side-by-side, at the ceremonial start of the 16 days of sport the world hopes might cool the nuclear brinkmanship that has characterised that part of the world.

Katie Ormerod watched it on TV. The 20-year-old snow­boarder from Brighouse had been due on the slopes on Sunday. Instead, she could only share a picture of herself going into surgery for a fractured heel bone.

There were other absentees – the appeals of 47 Russian athletes and coaches, banned in the doping scandal which blighted the 2014 games, had been thrown out by the arbitration court only nine hours earlier.

“You can only really enjoy the Olympic experience if you respect the rules and stay clean,” said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.

But it was hope, not retribution, that set the tone. Flanked by 200 hand-picked cheerleaders, the two Korean teams marched in side-by-side under one flag.

They had done it nine times before since 2000, but Mr Trump was not then firing tweets at North Korea. His deputy, Mike Pence, in a Team USA Ralph Lauren ski jacket, was one row ahead of the Koreans today.

The symbolism prompted Bach to observe that “united in our diversity, we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”

Mr Pence was more appropriately turned out than some of the athletes, as the formalities progressed as briskly as the minus two temperature permitted. The three-strong Bermuda delegation must have thought – briefly – that their shorts were a brave choice. And the Tongan Pita Taufatofua, whose appearance at the summer Olympics wearing only his country’s flag made him a pin-up, attempted a reprise.

“I won’t freeze,” said Taufatofua, now reinvented as a cross-country skier. “I’m from Tonga. We sailed across the Pacific. This is nothing.”

The flame was lit by Kim Yu-Na, darling of the South Korean figure skating circuit, who had enthralled the crowds in Vancouver eight years ago. She did so again today as they handed her the torch at the top of an ice chute.

It fell to South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, to declare the games open. “Athletes from the two Koreas will work together for victory, and that will resonate with and be remembered in the hearts of people around the world as a sign of peace,” he had said at a reception beforehand.

Pyeongchang is an isolated, rugged mountain town, one of the poorest, coldest and most disenfranchised parts of an otherwise prosperous South Korea. The border to North Korea is less than 50 miles away, but today it seemed closer still.