PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – In his address to a shivering crowd of 35,000, Lee Hee-beom promised the Pyeongchang Winter Games would be "above all, a peace Olympics." For the most part, Friday's Opening Ceremony fulfilled his wish.
South and North Korea marched into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium together, under a unified flag featuring the silhouette of the Korean Peninsula on a white background. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stood only a few seats away from Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. And two unexpected guests — people impersonating Donald Trump and Kim — showed up together without a fistfight breaking out.
Not everyone heard the plea for peace made by Lee, president of Pyeongchang's Olympic organizing committee. Before the ceremony, about 800 people gathered outside the stadium to protest against North Korea, burning posters of Kim and chanting slogans. But the mood was different inside on a night that kicked off the first Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Figure skater Yuna Kim, perhaps the most famous and beloved athlete in South Korea, lit the cauldron to end an Opening Ceremony that reflected the host country: modest, technically proficient and warm enough to take the edge off a bitter night. The temperature was not quite as frigid as feared, holding in the upper 20s with a windchill in the mid-teens.
Many of the 2,920 athletes bundled up and marched, despite some concerns that it wouldn't be healthy for them to spend hours standing in the cold. Others didn't bother with the bundling.
Tonga's Pita Taufatofua — the bare-chested, grass-skirted, oiled-up sensation of the Rio Summer Olympics — carried his nation's flag again after making the Olympics in cross-country skiing. He showed just as much skin as he did in Rio, as did a Bermuda delegation that proved no weather is inappropriate for their shorts.
"I won't freeze," Taufatofua said. "I am from Tonga. We sailed across the Pacific. This is nothing."
The U.S. has 242 athletes competing in Pyeongchang, the most of any country and the largest team in Winter Games history. Most of them participated in the Parade of Nations, getting an earlier-than-usual slot because countries marched in Korean alphabetical order.
With the sound system blasting "Gangnam Style," the 2012 international hit by the Korean star Psy, the Americans danced into the stadium wearing coats with battery-powered heaters. Luge athlete Erin Hamlin waved the flag with gusto, enjoying a moment that generated controversy earlier Friday when U.S. speedskater Shani Davis complained that he wasn't chosen.
Davis lost a coin flip after a tie vote for the honor and did not attend the ceremony.
The Olympic athletes from Russia entered the stadium dressed in white, though the Russian flag did make an appearance among a group of defiant fans. In a strong statement on the eve of the Olympics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport kept the delegation at 168 athletes, denying an appeal by 47 others to be allowed to compete.
Rachel Blount • firstname.lastname@example.org