In an extraordinary and unexpected show of unity, North and South Korean officials have sat side by side at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, shook hands with South Korean president Moon Jae-in while they watched an elaborate show of light, sound and human performance at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang which aimed to tell the epic story of the whole of Korea.
US vice president Mike Pence sat a row ahead of Ms Kim and the North’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, as they watched the games begin – officials from two nations that many worry are on the brink of nuclear conflict.
The opening ceremony took place before a world watching the Games not only for their athletic significance and global spectacle, but for clues about what the political future of the peninsula could hold. A delegation from North Korea, dressed in identical garb, watched from an upper deck of the stadium.
Then began the Olympic tradition that takes place at every Games – the march of athletes from the world’s many nations, which took place during freezing temperatures and biting winds.
Performances displayed the sweep of Korean history and culture. Members of a delegation from North Korea, part of an extraordinary Olympics partnership between the two Korean rivals, watched from high in the stadium a performance called “The Land of Peace”, and also watched past South Korean athletes parade a large southern flag.
After a chaotic year of nuclear war threats and missile tests from the North, it was a striking visual moment. There was a palpable excitement in this isolated, rugged mountain town, as one of the poorest, coldest and most disgruntled parts of an otherwise prosperous South Korea kicked off two weeks of winter sports, Olympic spectacle and, perhaps, reconciliation between the North and South.
The rival Koreas, flirting with war just weeks ago, are suddenly making overtures toward the no-longer-quite-so-absurd notion of cooperation. Mr Moon said at a reception ahead of the ceremony: “Athletes from the two Koreas will work together for victory, and that will resonate with and be remembered in the hearts of people around the world as a sign of peace.”
The North has sent nearly 500 people to the Pyeongchang Games including officials, athletes, artists and cheerleaders after the Koreas agreed to a series of conciliatory gestures to mark the event.
More than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries will compete, making it the biggest Winter Olympics to date.