Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018: Opening Ceremony and First Weekend

It has been nearly 2 years since the last Olympics, which were held in Rio de Janeiro, and the Olympics are finally back! Here in the US, the opening ceremonies were broadcast Friday evening. The performance, featuring choreographed drumming, in addition to performances by Korean musicians of both traditional Korean songs and more contemporary American music. Many world leaders were in attendance, including Shinzo Abe, Japan’s PM; Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s President; Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Koreas Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Although there was some controversy over the already-controversial Mike Pence’s hostility toward Ms. Kim, the opening ceremony overall proceeded very smoothly. The US had the biggest team, with 242 athletes, followed by Canada. One of the largest teams did not actually represent a country; because of a large problem of doping within the Russian team before this Olympics, Russia was banned, and the 169 Russian athletes allowed to participate represent the team Olympic Athletes from Russia.

The Parade of Nations is always fun to watch; this year has a record 92 countries participating, and it was nice to see the delegations representing countries who did not have much of a previous history in winter sports who are now getting to participate. These included several East African nations of Kenya, Madagascar, and Eritrea, and the tiny but historic mountain Republic of San Marino.

The teams representing both North and South Korea marched into the arena together in a truly historic moment; while there have been many frightening or disturbing headlines surrounding North Korea recently, it was good to see that the two Korean governments are able to put aside their differences, even if for just two weeks. Korea is one country, not two, and it is important that they could show this to the world. Although they will be mostly participating separately, they will have a joint women’s hockey team.

There have not been many events yet; many of the cross-country skiing events, as well as most luge, slopestyle snowboarding, speed skating, and some curling, have already taken place. For fans of endurance sports, I would highly recommend watching or re-watching either the skiathlon (which combines the two different styles of cross-country skiing) or the biathlon (combining cross-country skiing and shooting). These are also good to watch more as background entertainment, as they are slower, and you can easily miss parts without missing the whole event.

For a more intense event, any of the snowboarding or alpine skiing events are exciting (these are also the most visually impressive to watch). I like to watch sports I wouldn’t normally watch at any other time, but if you want to watch a more traditional, American-style sport, hockey is always a good sport.

Many of the athletes from the countries with small delegations are competing in alpine skiing, so these might be enjoyable if you enjoy a good “underdog” story.

So far, the medal count is dominated by Northern European countries; Norway has 9, including 2 gold, while Germany and the Netherlands each have 7. Canada also has 7, while the US comes in 5th with four, including 17-year-old Redmond Gerard’s impressive gold medal in slopestyle snowboarding. Veteran snowboarder Jamie Anderson brought in a second gold medal, also in slopestyle.  Already, seventeen teams have medalled.

Overall, although smaller than the Summer Games, the Olympics games are a fun reflection both of positive geopolitical stories of the successes of a variety of countries, and of the great athletic accomplishments of people from around the world. These Winter Games will truly be historic.