Temperatures were near freezing at the opening ceremony, in what could have been the coldest in 24 years. Despite this, some 35,000 spectators watched a dazzling display of lights and energizing dance moves lit up the normally quiet corner of South Korea. The 23rd Olympic Winter Games, being held in PyeongChang, called for an urgent message of world togetherness and peace.
The opening ceremony started with a bright show of lights in red, white and blue which are the colors of the South Korean flag. North and South Korea put their differences aside for the games, and had their athletes march together for the first time under a unified flag. Though both countries technically remain at war, their athletes will be competing together.
“It’s really hard to get the North and the South to get together. A lot of South Koreans are very happy they’re getting together,” said Young Hwang, a 51-year-old worker in Seoul, from inside the Gangneung Ice Arena where the opening ceremony was held.
Many notable political figures attended the opening ceremony. Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States, Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea, Kim Yo Jung, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam all were in attendance. Despite tensions between many of the countries, the opening ceremony went smoothly and drew the crowd together for a unified cause.
The ceremony featured 2,900 athletes from about 90 nations. Erin Hamlin, who is competing in women’s luge, was the U.S. flag bearer. Marquee American names include skiiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim, and figure skater Nathan Chen. The U.S. also got the chance to walk out to “Gangnam Style,” by far the most successful Korean pop song ever.
Many of the athletes who are hoping to bring back gold for the United States are Christians as well. Elena Meyers-Taylor, who is leading the women’s bobsled team, said in 2016 “I know that God is working through me within this sport.I know He’s put me here for a purpose and it’s not just to win medals. Winning is great and hopefully it gives me a platform to spread His love and spread His Word, but at the end of the day, I’m called to do what He wants me to do.” David Wise, Kelly Clark, Gigi Marvin, and Kate Uhlaender are also all Christian athletes to watch during the big games.
The backbone of the opening ceremony was the parade of nations, which followed the Korean alphabet. Notably, the Russia flag was missing from the parade. The absence of the Russian flag is part of the punishment for Russia’s state-backed doping program at the Olympics four years ago. But the Russians still have a robust team of more than 160.
While competition had begun earlier in sports such as curling and figure skating, the first medal events are set to take place Saturday.