The 23rd Olympic Winter Games officially kicked off in Pyeongchang, South Korea, today with a dazzling spectacle featuring the parade of participating nations and a whimsical storyline.
Although competition for the 2018 Winter Olympics began Thursday, the much-anticipated opening ceremony started today at 8 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET), at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in the sleepy mountain town of Hoenggye, located in the Gangwon province of Pyeongchang County.
Spectators at the 35,000-seat temporary venue were provided with several items to fend off the region’s bitter cold and high winds, including a raincoat, a blanket and knitted hats, as well as hand, feet and seat warmers. They watched in awe as about 20,000 fireworks were set off throughout the opening ceremony, with some soaring nearly a mile high.
The opening ceremony, titled “Peace in Motion,” emphasized peace by following the fairytale-like adventures of five imaginary children from Gangwon province with a cast of hundreds of other performers. The magical journey was performed in parts throughout the ceremony.
The five children — Haenaroe, Ara, Puri, Bichae and Nuri — traveled through time to the past and future, learning about South Korea’s history and culture. In the mythic world that the children explored, they first saw a land of peace where nature and people together live in harmony.
When the children entered the future world, where everyone and everything are connected, they realized the significance of working together for peace.
“The opening ceremony will weave together the narratives of five lovable protagonists from Gangwon province through cultural performances,” Yang Jung-woong, executive producer of the opening ceremony, said during a Jan. 23 news conference in Pyeongchang. “The stage will unfold like a winter fairytale depicting the children’s adventure.”
The five children returned to the present world as their journey came to an end. They held lit candles and passed the candlelight to a family who then shared it with other performers onstage.
About 1,000 residents of Gangwon province with lit candles came onstage to help form the glowing shape of a dove. An additional 35,000 people in the audience also held candles.
When the stage was illuminated with candlelight, four South Korean singers began singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as videos of 27 street musicians around the world singing the song were played.
The five children then released a fauz dove, a symbol of peace, into the night sky.
The Rainbow Choir, comprised of 75 children from multicultural families, sang South Korea’s national anthem as the host country’s flag was hoisted into the air.
The athletes of the 2018 Winter Olympics marched into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium amid roaring applause and cheers. Erin Hamlin, the first U.S. athlete to win an Olympic medal in singles luge, was Team USA’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony.
North and South Korea were last to enter the stadium. The teams marched together behind a “unification flag” carried by an athlete from each country, according to the International Olympic Committee.
Russia’s national Olympic committee was barred from the 2018 Winter Olympics as punishment for its alleged state-sponsored cover-up of doping by its athletes. But some individual Russian athletes will be allowed to participate in the games by competing under a neutral Olympic flag.
“You can only really enjoy your Olympic performance if you respect the rules and stay clean,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said during his speech at the opening ceremony today. “In sport, we are all equal.”
Eight South Korean athletes of winter sports carried the Olympic flag into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, where it was hoisted and South Korean opera singer Sumi Hwang sung the Olympic anthem.
The Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 Torch Relay arrived at its final destination of the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony today. The final torchbearers jogged up dozens of stairs to light the cauldron with the Olympic flame.
The 27.5-inch torch represents the altitude of Pyeongchang, which is nearly half a mile above sea level. Its white and gold tones are the main colors of the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 Torch Relay.
The torch was designed by South Korean artist Kim Young-se and was meant to ensure the flame will stay lit in various weather conditions, even South Korea’s strong winds and heavy snow.
South Korean actor and producer Song Seung-whan was the executive creative director of the opening ceremony.
The Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium will also host the closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics Feb. 25.
This is the second Olympics held in South Korea; Seoul was the host city for the Summer Olympics in 1988.
“The first Olympic Games on snow and ice in the Republic of Korea,” Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, said at the opening ceremony today. “Now is the time for Pyeongchang.”