PYEONGCHANG, Feb 9 - The 23rd Winter Olympic Games opened amid a spectacular ceremony in South Korea’s PyeongChang on Friday night.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared the Games open at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium following a speech by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief, Thomas Bach, who stressed the Games can send "a powerful message of peace to the world".
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy Han Zheng, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, rose from his seat and waved to the Chinese delegation which was led into the stadium by star short track speed skater and flagbearer Zhou Yang in the athletes parade.
China sent a 181-member delegation including 82 athletes, the biggest of its kind since the Vancouver Games. The Chinese athletes will compete in 55 medal events in 12 disciplines across five different sports at the Olympics.
In the highlight of the athletes parade, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and South Korea marched together under a unified Korean flag.
Dressed in long, white padded jackets, they followed the flag with a blue silhouette of the Korean Peninsula against a white background. The athletes also held and waved smaller unified flags aloft in their right hand, smiling in front of 35,000 spectators in the stadium.
The spectators included Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, and Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong Un.
DPRK and South Korea will also form a women’s ice hockey team to compete at PyeongChang.
With Russia banned from PyeongChang, 168 "clean" Russian athletes are allowed to compete in the Winter Olympics under a neutral flag as "Olympic Athletes from Russia".
The athletes’ parade was followed by a stellar art performance, a brilliant combination of dazzling light, music and dance, fireworks, and cultural extravaganza.
The cauldron for the PyeongChang Games was lit by South Korea’s Olympic heroine Kim Yuna, who enthralled the crowds in Vancouver as she won Olympic figure skating gold in 2010.
Unlike the powerhouse status in summer Olympics that was demonstrated by topping the gold medal table at Beijing 2008, China had not won a Winter Olympics title until the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. As the host nation of next Winter Games in 2022, China plans to plant the seeds of winter sporting success in PyeongChang.
After Beijing’s successful bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, more and more athletes from summer sports have joined us in winter sports and they have been training very hard in snow sports, Gao Zhidan, deputy Chef de Mission of the Chinese delegation, said ahead of the opening ceremony.
The top priority of the athletes is to learn more from other athletes in PyeongChang, Gao added.
China has won 12 gold, 22 silver and 19 bronze medals since the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, which included a 5-2-4 record in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics that placed the country at 7th on the final medal table.
The PyeongChang Winter Games, attracting nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries and regions, will run through Feb 25.