At around -28 degrees centigrade with steady winds making the chill further, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, inaugurated the 23rd Winter Olympics Games at Pyeonghang in South Korea.
“This is the moment that we have all been waiting for: the first Olympic Games on snow and ice in the Republic of Korea. This is the moment that the organizing committee, the public authorities and so many people have been working for with great dedication and commitment. You all can be very proud tonight. Now is the time for Pyeongchang,” as Thomas Bach said in his opening speech.
This year, as it was predicted, the Winter Olympics is held in the harshest weather condition. But still the organisers did not think of holding the ceremony indoor as it was done at Sochi in Russia in 2010 and at Vancouver in British Columbia in 2014. In place, the spectators were handed a package that included hand and foot warmers, a wool hat, a poncho, a blanket and a heated seat cushion to make them comfortable in cold.
But the atmosphere was already warmed up by the presence of South Korean President Moon Jae-in who was seated close to Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
The two Koreas have remained technically at war since their division 70 years ago. North Korea, even, boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics that happened at Seoul in South Korea. But this Winter Olympics will be marked as a political breakthrough event as a unified Korean team of athletes marched out together carrying the Unification Flag. It was carried together by South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong and North Korean ice hockey player Hwang Chung-gum.
But this serious political move was somewhat marred by a sudden commotion in one section of the stadium when impersonators of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un appeared near the bottom row of stands. Spectators and members of the news media rushed down to snap photographs of the fake Trump and Kim. But eventually a crew of ushers came down and forced the pair to leave the stands.
The rest of the ceremony went on smoothly as the pentagonal-shaped Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, which would be demolished after the Games, was lit up for the last time with all grandeur. The countries came out as per the Korean alphabet. The Russian athletes qualified for the Games came under the flag, ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’, lifted by a volunteer instead of an athlete. The absence of the Russian flag is part of the punishment for Russia’s state-backed doping program at the Olympics four years ago. The one-man Tongan team represented by cross-country skier, Pita Taufatofua, was greeted by a huge roar as Taufatofua made his way shirtless in chilling cold with chest greased up.
Indian star luger Shiva Keshavan once again did the honour of holding the national flag as the contingent, including
cross country skier Jagdish Singh, took part in the march past. With red track shirt and black trousers with grey hand gloves and a Himachali cap, the six-member Indian team marched through the stadium. The 36-year-old Keshavan, who is taking part in his sixth and last Winter Olympics, was seen proudly waving the tri-colour.
Then came the most coveted moment of any Olympics- the final leg of the torch relay and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Inbee Park, the South Korean professional golfer, was one of the final torchbearers. Two members of the mixed North and South Korean women’s hockey team, Chung Su-hyon of North Korea and Park Jong-ah of South Korea, carried the torch up the stairs. And Yuna Kim, the highly popular former figure skater who won the gold medal in 2010 and the silver in 2014, lit up the Olympic torch.
For the next 15 days, the flame will enlighten up the cool Pyeongchang where the athletes will inspire us all to live together in peace and harmony. There will be competition but in the Olympic spirit of excellence, respect and fair play.