Winter Olympics begin | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 10, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:34 AM, February 10, 2018

Winter Olympics begin

The opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics unfurled in frigid temperatures and high spirits on Friday, as athletes from the two Koreas marched into the stadium together less than 50 miles from the heavily-fortified border between their nations, offering hope of a breakthrough in a tense, geopolitical standoff that has stirred fears of nuclear conflict.

The festivities started what organizers say is the largest Winter Olympics yet, with 92 countries participating. The North and South Korean delegations, marching under one flag, embodied the hopes of a peninsula divided by history and ideology.

Kim Yu-na, South Korea's former gold medal-winning figure skater, wore skates as she lit the Olympic cauldron, after being handed the torch by two members of the joint Korean women's ice hockey team -- one player from the North and one from the South.

Lee Hee-beom, head of the Games organising committee, said "the North and South have become one through the Olympics".

"Pyeongchang Olympics will become the hope and light for everyone that hopes for peace, not only on the Korean peninsula but in northeast Asia and the entire world," said Lee.

In contrast, Russia's athletes entered the ceremony behind a neutral flag after their team was suspended over a doping scandal. Despite the ban, 168 "Olympic Athletes from Russia" will compete in Pyeongchang.

Just hours earlier, 47 Russians lost a court bid to take part in the Games after they were left off the list of athletes deemed clean from doping.

Shivering athletes and spectators are bracing for one of the coldest Winter Olympics on record, with real-feel temperatures plumbing minus 10C at the opening ceremony.

Japan's speed skaters are among the athletes who decided it was too cold to brave the open-air ceremony, while organisers handed out heat packs, blankets and hats to keep spectators warm.

But Tonga's Pita Taufatofua, echoing his eye-catching entrance at the Rio Olympics, happily braved the chill as he appeared stripped to the waist and with his chest heavily oiled.

Expectations are sky-high for an array of stars at Pyeongchang, including American skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, while the drama in figure skating centres on whether Japan's "Ice Prince" Yuzuru Hanyu can recover from injury to retain his crown.

Potential winners also include French flag-bearer Martin Fourcade in biathlon, hoping to add to his two gold medals in Sochi in 2014.

Alpine giant slalom great Marcel Hirscher of Austria is also among the gold medal hunters.

The sensational 15-year-old Alina Zagitova of Russia will take the spotlight in women's figure skating, where a showdown is expected with her fellow Russian teen, Evgenia Medvedeva.

Another teenage breakout star could be Chloe Kim, 17, the American whose parents are Korean and who is tipped for gold in snowboard as well as adulation by the host nation.

For the South Koreans, major home hopes rest on the slender shoulders of yet another teenage girl. In short-track speed skating, 19-year-old Choi Min-jeong is among the favourites for a gold-medal sweep of all four races.

Competition gets into full swing on Saturday with five gold medals available, in ski jumping, cross country skiing, biathlon, speed skating and short-track speed skating.

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