Hushed anticipation and a palpable sense of excitement permeated the Olympic Stadium ahead of the long-awaited Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
The stadium, built specially for these Games, combines in its designs various geometric forms - circles, squares and triangles - which represent heaven, earth and mankind respectively, and the principles of harmony and convergence which are central to Korean values and culture.
With peace so very much the core message for this edition of the Games, it was fitting that, as the countdown to the start of the Ceremony was projected onto the ice, the ancient Bell of Peace - which according to legend calmed the waves and brought peace to the lands of Korea – provided the centrepiece, before a colourful explosion of fireworks that illuminated the night sky over PyeongChang.
Children of peace
The central characters of the PyeongChang 2018 Opening Ceremony were five Korean children – each representing one of the elements (fire, water, wood, metal and earth), which according to Korean traditional belief make up the universe. The Ceremony followed them on a journey through time, on a quest for the meaning of peace and harmony.
The bold colours of the five children’s costumes each symbolise both the colours of the elements and of the five Olympic rings. Their journey started in an icebound cave in which stone carvings magically came to life, depicting notable Korean inventions such as the turtle ship, as well as an exotic array of animals and mythical creatures such as the White Tiger, the Blue Dragon, the Vermillion Bird, and the Black Tortoise, which are significant to Korean culture and lore.
The White Tiger then led the children on the first leg of their journey, as the stage was magically transformed into the Baekdudaegan mountain range, which forms the backbone of the Korean Peninsular. Then, as a constellation of stars appeared overhead, the President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in and the IOC President Thomas Bach were formally introduced to a packed stadium.
The light from the beginning
A sea of bright white lights illuminated the stadium as hundreds of traditional django drummers – also decked out in white - took centre stage, filling the stadium with a pulsating rhythm to accompany a mesmerising chorography. They then morphed into the colours and design of the flag of the Republic of Korea, with the red and white yin and yang at its heart.
The Republic of Korea’s flag, paraded by eight leading sports stars from the host country: Kang Kwang-bae – pioneer of Korean bobsleigh, and now coach of the Korean bobsleigh, luge and skeleton teams; Jin Sun-yu, who won three short track golds at Turin 2006; Pak Se-ri, golfer and coach of the national team at Rio 2016; baseball star Li Sun-yi; marathon runner Hwang Young-cho, who won gold at Barcelona 1992; Seo Hyang-Soon – archery gold medallist at LA 1984; Lim O-Kyeong, a two-time Olympic handball champion; Ha Hyung-joo who won judo gold at LA 1984.
They then handed over to a traditional guard of honour, decked out in brightly coloured Korean costumes, who transported the flag out of the stadium as a rainbow children’s choir, made up entirely of children from multi-ethnic families in the host country, then performed the national anthem.
Athletes take centre stage
This in turn paved the way for the start of the Athletes’ Parade, as the flags of each of the National Olympic Committees were emblazoned large on the ice. In time honoured tradition, the Greek NOC delegation led the way, with their contingent of two cross-country and two Alpine skiers. They were then followed by Ghana, led by the remarkable Akwasi Frimpong – his country’s sole representative and second ever Winter Olympian who will compete in skeleton. He was followed by the Nigerian contingent with their women’s bobsleigh team, who are the first African team in the sport to appear on the Olympic stage. 30 years after the Jamaican’s won hearts and minds across the planet with their men’s bobsleigh team becoming unlikely heroes, Jamaica’s women bobsleighers graced the Opening Ceremony for the first time in Olympic history.
Alongside the sizeable delegations of the ‘traditional’ Winter sports hotbeds from Europe, Asia and North America, the likes of Madagascar, Ecuador, Malaysia, Cyprus, Kosovo, Togo, Tonga and Azerbaijan were among the 18 countries represented by just one athlete; meanwhile, no less than six countries, including Singapore and Eritrea appeared at a Winter Opening Ceremony for the very first time, making PyeongChang 2018 one of the most diverse Winter Games in history, with no shortage of inspiring stories of feats of human endeavour against the odds that the Olympic stage always inspires.
As the parade of athletes reached its finale, there was a truly historic break with tradition. Normal protocol dictates that the honour of being the final NOC to enter the stadium falls to the host nation. However, in PyeongChang, the Republic of Korea delegation was joined by their counterparts from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Korea, marching together as Korea in a hugely powerful act of the Olympic spirit’s ability to engender camaraderie and peace. Marching under the Korean Unification Flag, the combined delegations were led by joint flagbearers, ice hockey player Huang Jun Gun from DPRK and from the host nation, bobsleigh athlete Juang Yung Jon.
As the last of the athletes departed the stadium in a sea of colour, lights and fireworks, there was then a change of tempo and mood to serenity and natural beauty with a cinematic journey of the host nation through the four seasons, against the enchanting melodies of a traditional Korean ‘Jeongseon Airirang’ folk song, sung by 77-year old Kim Nam-ji, as the five children then resumed their quest through time, venturing into the future, where they encountered grown-up version of themselves, helping to make diverse and positive contributions to a changing world.
Window on the future
The host nation has long enjoyed a reputation for cutting edge hi-tech and this was very much at the fore of the next part of the Opening Ceremony, with a beautifully choreographed depiction of the Republic of Korea’s prowess in technological innovation, and its role in building a more peaceful world.
With peace firmly established at the core themes for the latest edition of the Olympic Winter Games, it was a poignant moment for the President and CEO of the Organising Committee (POCOG), Lee Hee-beom and IOC President Thomas Bach to take centre stage. Both men delivered powerful messages on the common theme of peace and unification, and the power of the Olympic stage to rise above conflict, break down barriers and promote mutual respect.
Peace and reconciliation
“The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games will guide us to a world of reconciliation,” said the POCOG President. “Just as the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games broke down the Cold War barrier between East and West 30 years ago, we hope that the two Koreas participating together in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will once again bring peace over our land.”
The IOC President then took up the baton on the theme of peace as he hailed “the first Olympic Games on snow and ice in the Republic of Korea.”
He began with a powerful message for the athletes, reminding them of the abiding importance of fair play and the Olympic spirit: “You will inspire us all to live together in peace and harmony despite all our differences. You will inspire us by competing for the highest honour in the Olympic spirit of excellence, respect and fair play.“
“You can only really enjoy your Olympic performance if you respect the rules and stay clean. Only then will your lifelong memories be the memories of a true and worthy Olympian.”
He also spoke of the “unique power of sport to unite people” which has perhaps never been more evident during an Opening Ceremony, as he noted:
“A great example of this unifying power is the joint march here tonight of the two teams from the National Olympic Committees of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We thank you.”
“All the athletes around me, all the spectators here in the stadium, and all Olympic fans watching around the world… we are all touched by this wonderful gesture. We all join and support you in your message of peace.
“United in our diversity, we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us. Two years ago in Rio de Janeiro, with the first ever Refugee Olympic Team, the IOC sent a powerful message of hope to the world. Now in PyeongChang, the athletes from the teams of the ROK and DPRK, by marching together, send a powerful message of peace to the world.
The IOC President then welcomed to the stage the President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, who officially declared the Games of the XXIII Winter Olympiad opened, as the night sky once again exploded into a blaze of fireworks.
Yuna Kim lights the cauldron
Underlining the theme that ran throughout the Opening Ceremony, four stars of Korean music (Ha Hyun-woo, Lee Eun-mi, Ha Hyun-woo and An Ji-yeong) gave a moving performance of John Lennon’s iconic anthem for peace, Imagine. Joining them via a live global video link were musicians around the world, while a bright dove of peace formed by extras surrounded the singers at the stadium. The Olympic flag then made its entrance, borne by four generations of Korean athletes, and the Olympic oath was sworn.
Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for as Korean figure skating idol Yuna Kim skated around the Olympic cauldron, before taking receipt of the Olympic flame from two players from the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team: Jong Su Hyon (PRK) and Park Jong-ah (KOR).
The 2010 Olympic champion then lit the cauldron, and with that PyeongChang 2018 was well and truly under way.