Korea joins hands at opening of ‘biggest ever’ Winter Olympics

The North Korea and South Korea Olympic teams enter together under the Korean Unification Flag during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Picture: David J. Phillip/Getty Images
The North Korea and South Korea Olympic teams enter together under the Korean Unification Flag during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Picture: David J. Phillip/Getty Images
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The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shaken hands with South Korea’s president as the Winter Olympics began with an extraordinary and unexpected show of unity in Pyeongchang.

Kim Yo Jong greeted South Korean leader Moon Jae-in prior to a spectacular opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium which told the story of the entire Korean peninsula.

Athletes from Great Britain's delegation parade. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Athletes from Great Britain's delegation parade. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

US vice president Mike Pence sat just a row ahead of Ms Kim and the North’s nominal head of state, Kim Jong Nam, as they watched the ceremony unfold.

Later, North and South Korean athletes both entered the Olympic Stadium together, waving flags of unity - the long-time dream, at least in theory, of many Koreans in the North and South.

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It was the rivals’ first joint Olympic march since 2007. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach then handed the podium to Mr Moon, who declared the Olympics officially open.

Fireworks erupt as the cauldron is lit with the Olympic flame. Picture: David J. Philip/AFP/Getty Images

Fireworks erupt as the cauldron is lit with the Olympic flame. Picture: David J. Philip/AFP/Getty Images

In a reception ahead of the ceremony, Mr Moon said: “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.”

Mr Bach lauded the joint march of the two Koreas as a “powerful message”.

“We thank you,” he said. “We are all touched by this wonderful gesture. We all join and support you in your message of peace.”

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.

The Unified Korea delegation parades. Picture: Sean M. Haffey/AFP/Getty Images

The Unified Korea delegation parades. Picture: Sean M. Haffey/AFP/Getty Images

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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”.

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.

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.