2018 Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics opening ceremony: Highlights – and awkward moments

Winter Olympics officially opened with fireworks, a Trump imposter, unfamiliar flags and a familiar topless Tongan – Here are the things you need to know from the opening ceremony.

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Tongan flag bearer Pita Taufatofua poses during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have officially begun with the traditional spectacle of an elaborate and, at times, confusing opening ceremony. If Sochi’s 2014 offering became known for the giant Olympic ring snowflake that failed to light, then this South Korean effort will live long in the memory for a topless Tongan, and the emotional entrance of the North and South Korean teams together. Here are some of the highlights – and awkward moments – from the ceremony

1) The controversial use of ‘augmented reality’

Olympic opening ceremonies have to pull off the trick of being entertaining within the stadium, and looking great on television. The 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremony caused controversy with ‘faked’ digital fireworks that were intended to improve the armchair viewing experience.

In Pyeongchang, several elements primarily designed for the television audience used ‘augmented reality’. Early on, for example, a passage depicted the constellations and stars above South Korea. For TV viewers they formed a stunning dome above the performers. For those in the stadium, they got to watch a load of people looking up at something that they couldn’t see.

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 A virtual dome of stars above performers. Photo: BBC

2) Someone sent Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un lookalikes

With tensions high between the two leaders – who have referred to each other as “mentally deranged”, a “dotard” and “a rogue and a gangster” in recent months – it was inevitable someone would try and make a point about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un during the opening ceremony. Impersonators of the US and North Korean leaders tried to gain access to the stadium, but were foiled by security.

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Impersonators of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are escorted out. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The real US representative at the ceremony was vice-president Mike Pence, who was seated near Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader. Sandwiched between them was president of South Korea Moon Jae-in, a VIP seating plan that must have caused a lot of headaches to put together.

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Dignitaries from South Korea, North Korea and the USA in close proximity during the ceremony. Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Not everybody seemed to have got the peaceful co-operation memo, though.

3) They obviously couldn’t resist using Gangnam Style

The athletes’ parade is often described as one of the most amazing experiences of an Olympian’s life. Those representing Montenegro, Moldova, Malta, Mongolia, USA and Bermuda will forever remember that massive international hit Gangnam Style was playing while they paraded around the stadium. Sadly, no athletes took it as a cue to break into Psy’s trademark dance move.

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Gangnam Style featured in the opening ceremony soundtrack, but not Psy himself. Or distinctive dancing style. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

4) The Bermuda shorts

It was so cold in the stadium that journalists were issued with ‘warming packs’ on their seats including gloves and leg-warmers. But the cold didn’t phase Tucker Murphy, the sole athlete representing Bermuda. With temperatures at -3 (27F), Murphy, obviously, opted for a pair of shorts. He’s from Bermuda, what did you expect?

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Bermuda flag-bearer Tucker Murphy and his short shorts. Photo: David Davies/PA

5) The shirtless Tongan

Bermuda’s efforts could only be outdone by Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua. He came to worldwide attention at the 2016 Rio Games for appearing at the Brazilian opening ceremony topless and smothered in oil. And, having switched from taekwondo to cross-country skiing, in the sub-zero temperatures of Pyeongchang, he did the exact same thing.

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Pita Taufatofua makes his traditional low-key entrance. Photo: Sean Haffey/AP

6) The heated US jackets

In absolute contrast, the US team attended the opening ceremony wearing battery-powered heated jackets. Made by Ralph Lauren, a rechargeable battery pack in the pocket heats up conductive ink printed on the jacket to keep the athletes toasty while parading around.

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America flag bearer Erin Hamlin and the rest of the US team. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

7) The order countries appeared in

Traditionally Greece enter the parade of athletes first, as the spiritual home of the Olympic movement. And the hosts go last. Everybody else came out in Pyeongchang in an order determined by the South Korean alphabet, giving those of us unfamiliar with it a randomised mixed bag full of surprises – Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and the Netherlands followed Greece as the first nations.

8) ‘The Olympic Athlete From Russia’

The IOC ban on Russia appearing at the Games hasn’t prevented individual athletes being able to take part, and so the definitely-not-Russian team took part in the ceremony, underneath a not-Russian flag, carried by a not-Russian local volunteer.

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A volunteer carries the flag of the OAR. Photo: Sean Haffey/AP

That didn’t stop Russian fans attending the ceremony wearing the national symbol that the IOC has forbidden the athletes to display.

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A Russian fan. Photo: Sergei Bobylev/Tass

9) The joint Korean flag

If the Russians could be forgiven for being a little underwhelmed about marching behind an IOC flag, for the athletes from Korea, being behind an unfamiliar flag was a very different experience.

North Korean ice hockey player Hwang Chung Gum and South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong led athletes from the divided nations behind a single flag bearing a map of a unified Korean peninsula.

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Unified Korea’s joint flagbearers. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

In his opening ceremony speech, Thomas Bach, described the Korean entrance as “a great example” of the “unifying power” of sport. “All the athletes around me,” he said, “all the spectators here in the stadium, and all Olympic fans watching around the world: we are all touched by this wonderful gesture. We all join and support you in your message of peace.”

10) And finally the fact they will subsequently knock the stadium down

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It cost around $109m to build the 35,000-seat stadium, and they are going to use it for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Games and the Winter Paralympics. And then they are going to demolish it. It’s no wonder cities increasingly seem to worry about the cost and benefits of hosting Olympic Games.

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