Winter Olympics Begins, In the Cold, Poor South Korean Mountains
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The world starts watching now. At least, when it comes to sports.
After two failed bids, billions of dollars in preparation and a national debate about whether it's all worth it, the Winter Olympics are about to open in Pyeongchang. The beginning will be a gala ceremony showcasing South Korea's rise from poverty and war into one of Asia's most modern nations.
The isolated mountain town of Pyeongchang will be a global player for two weeks of winter sports and spectacle.
But athletics have been overshadowed in the buildup by a frenzied, increasingly momentous spray of political developments.
The rival Koreas, flirting with war just weeks ago, are suddenly making overtures toward cooperation. And the Olympics could be the place where the next step plays out.
Spotlight on United Koreas in Ceremony, on Ice and Other Olympic News
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The Latest on the Pyeongchang Olympics
A united Korea stole the show at the opening ceremony, and a united Korean hockey team will be in the spotlight on Saturday at the Pyeongchang Olympics. North and South Korea marched together on Friday night as the games were officially opened at the Olympic Stadium.
On Saturday, the women's hockey team that is made up of players from the host country and its neighbor to the north will play its opening game against Switzerland.
The lower house of Russian parliament has issued a statement protesting a court's decision barring 45 banned athletes from the Pyeongchang Olympics just hours before the opening ceremony.
The International Olympic Committee had banned Russia over a massive doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games but allowed 168 Russian athletes to compete as "Olympic Athletes from Russia."
Dozens more filed appeals with the Court of Arbitration for Sport that ruled Friday to uphold the IOC's right to decide who can compete.
The lower house, the State Duma, responded with a statement deploring the court's verdict as a reflection of "crude pressure and political struggle in a sports field defying Olympic principles."
The lawmakers say, "Double standards in the sports sphere hurt the international Olympic movement."
South Korean figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim has ignited the Olympic cauldron for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in a chilly opening ceremony that highlighted Korean unity.
A North Korean and South Korean from the countries' joint hockey team also participated in the ceremony, handing off to Kim.
The opening ceremony kicked off what will be the biggest Winter Olympic Games to date with more than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries competing.
Kim won a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and a silver at the 2014 Sochi Games before retiring from competition.
She remains perhaps the country's most popular sports personality and has worked as a goodwill ambassador to promote the Pyeongchang Games.
A White House official says Vice President Mike Pence and the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un did not interact despite being seated just feet apart during the Olympic opening ceremony.
Pence was seated between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The dictator's sister, Kim Yo Jong, and the country's 90-year-old nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, were seated a row behind.
The White House official says Pence stood only for the U.S. team, despite other people in the box standing and applauding when athletes from the two Koreas walked in together.
The White House official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The games are taking place amid an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons.
— By Zeke Miller
IOC president Thomas Bach says "this is the moment that we have all been waiting for: The first Olympic games on snow and ice in the Republic of Korea."
Bach added that the only way to truly enjoy the Olympics as an athlete is to stay clean.
He also thanked the North and South Korea delegations for working together and said the two countries send a "powerful message of peace to the world."
Bach spoke just before South Korean President Moon Jae-In officially declared the Pyeongchang Games open.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has declared the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics open during a ceremony that featured the rival Koreas joining hands and marching together in the small ski resort town in eastern South Korea.
The games beginning Friday are taking place amid an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons. But Pyongyang's decision to send a high-level delegation including leader Kim Jong Un's sister to the Olympics has raised hopes in the South for rapprochement.
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 games.
More than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries will compete in the Pyeongchang Games, making it the biggest Winter Olympics to date.
In an extraordinary moment that could hardly be fathomed one month ago, North and South Korea have entered the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium together.
The countries are cooperating for a series of conciliatory measures, including having their athletes parade together for the first time in 11 years at the opening ceremony. The joyous group flew their flag, which was white with the blue Korean peninsula in the middle.
During the 2000s, the two countries' athletes marched together at the opening and closing ceremonies of several international sporting events, including the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The last time before Friday was at the Asian Winter Games in China in 2007.
The two countries have also formed a joint women's hockey team, which consists of 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans.
North Korea has sent hundreds of people to Pyeongchang, including officials, athletes, artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group. The games are also being attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister and other senior officials.
Tonga's Pita Taufatofua doesn't need a shirt for these Winter Olympics, even in frigid conditions at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.
Taufatofua turned heads at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio with his shirtless, oiled-up look as the flag bearer for his country. He's back again and this time it was even more impressive as he waved the flag and didn't seem fazed by temperatures that had fallen into the 20s.
Taufatofua will be competing in these Olympics as a cross-country skier, despite living in a tropical nation that has no snow. He competed in taekwondo in Rio.
The Russian Olympic team, known during the Pyeongchang games as the "Olympic Athletes from Russia," has entered the opening ceremonies under a significant cloud related to past doping concerns.
There are 168 Russians who are being forced to compete in neutral uniforms under the Olympic flag as punishment for Russian doping in Sochi in 2014. Other athletes haven't been invited to compete at all. Appeals by 45 of them were rejected Friday.
The Russians wore grey jackets with white scarves on Friday night and were carrying the Olympic flag. Response from the crowd was fairly muted, though some cheering could be heard.
Luge veteran Erin Hamlin has entered her last Olympics carrying the U.S. flag, which started as a feel-good story but quickly turned controversial.
The large U.S. contingent is one of the more enthusiastic groups, and Hamlin smiled broadly as she waved the flag.
Hamlin and speedskater Shani Davis were among several candidates for the flagbearer role and athletes from each of the eight winter sports federations voted in the process, which eventually deadlocked at 4-4. Hamlin won a coin toss, which was the predetermined method of picking a winner should the vote end in a tie.
A tweet posted to Davis' Twitter account said the process by which Hamlin won the honor was executed "dishonorably."
On paper, Davis would seem the more worthy candidate. He's a five-time Olympian and has won two gold medals and two silver medals.
Hamlin is a four-time Olympian who won a bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games and is a two-time world champion. She is retiring after these Olympics.
The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shaken hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a historic meeting during the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
After Moon and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were introduced Friday, they shook hands with world leaders around their box.
In a historic moment for the Koreas, Moon spun and shook hands in public with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong.
Kim Yo Jong is the first member of her family to visit South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War. She's part of a high-level delegation attending the opening ceremony.
As is Olympic tradition, Greece is beginning the parade of athletes into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.
Greece — which hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896 — is being followed by the other countries in alphabetical order according to the Korean alphabet.
The teams are led by a placard bearer dressed in snowflake decorations. The music is various Korean pop songs that range from the 1950s to present day hits. There will be 13 songs played while the athletes march into the stadium.
South Korean athletes who have represented the country in different sports carried the flag around the stadium and then the traditional guard of honor raised the flag. The Rainbow Choir, which consists of 40 children, sang the national anthem
The opening ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have begun with a round of sparkling fireworks exploding just above a seemingly delighted North Korean cheering delegation.
With taekwondo demonstrations from both Koreas, South Korea is putting on a frigid show for the world that's meant to display a newfound desire to cooperate with the North along with Seoul's stunning rise from poverty and war to Asian powerhouse.
A huge crowd gathered in the freezing Olympics Stadium in this isolated, mountainous corner of South Korea.
There will be plenty of sporting drama for both die-hard snow and ice junkies and the once-every-four-years enthusiast.
But the athletic aspect of these games has been overshadowed by the stunning cooperation of the rival Korea, who were flirting with war just weeks ago.
As expected, it will be very cold and breezy for the opening ceremonies at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Pyeongchang is situated in the mountains in the northeastern part of South Korea, about 50 miles from the border with North Korea.
It's known for brutal cold and harsh winds during the winter. Fans and athletes will be left largely exposed to the elements, though organizers are giving the 35,000 fans heated seat cushions, hand warmers and other gear to help ease the chilly conditions.
The good news is that the weather could have been worse.
It was about 32 degrees (0 Celsius) in Pyeongchang on Friday night, which is tolerable compared to temperatures that have dropped to near zero (-18 Celsius) in recent days.
Olympic halfpipe champion Iouri Podladtchikov won't defend his title because of injuries he suffered last month at the Winter X Games.
The 2014 gold medalist, known as the I-Pod, practiced on the Olympic halfpipe Friday but afterward said it would be "totally unreasonable" for him to compete.
The Russia native who competes for Switzerland took a nasty fall on his final jump at the X Games on Jan. 28, banging his face against the bottom of the pipe. He lay motionless for more than 10 minutes while medics stabilized his neck and strapped him to a stretcher.
He was diagnosed with a broken nose and released from the hospital the next day. He traveled to South Korea with the hopes of competing next Tuesday, but realized quickly it wouldn't be possible.
The law firm representing 45 Russian athletes excluded from the Pyeongchang Games says their Olympic dreams have been shattered.
Swiss firm Schellenberg Wittmer says, "Our clients consider — rightly so — that the decisions are unfair and harmful."
The law firm says the Russian athletes were not told why they haven't been invited by the International Olympic Committee. It adds they "are currently analyzing the reasoned decisions and examining the different legal options at their disposal."
Last week, the firm helped reverse the disqualification of 28 Russians from the Sochi Olympics, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Friday the IOC had the right to choose which Russians to invite to its games.
Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel already has one life-changing souvenir from South Korea, and it's not a medal.
The Olympic pairs skater rescued a puppy from the Korean dog meat trade while competing in Pyeongchang last year and she's helping organize more adoptions while skating there at this year's games.
Duhamel and her husband brought home Moo-tae last February. His big ears and affable personality have made him a favorite at the local dog park.
Buddhists in the southern part of the country helped rescue Moo-tae from a farm as a puppy, and Park found him living on a monastery.
Lindsey Vonn will enter three races at what she says will be her final Olympics.
The U.S. skiing star, who missed the 2014 Sochi Games after surgery on her right knee, says she will compete in the downhill, the super-G and the combined. But she decided to sit out the giant slalom, saying that her knee "is just not really in a place to do that."
The 33-year-old American said she wouldn't be able to contend for a medal in the GS, "so there's really no point."
This is Vonn's fourth Olympics. She won a gold in the downhill and a bronze in the super-G at Vancouver in 2010.
Her first race in South Korea is the super-G, scheduled for Feb. 17.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he hopes the Olympic Games can give a small boost to relations between North and South Korea.
Guterres met Friday in Pyeongchang with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. Guterres says "obviously in the present context there is a lot of attention to the message of peace in relation to the Korean Peninsula."
He says he wants to make clear that "the Olympic message of peace is not local. It's universal."
He says, "It is valid everywhere where we struggle to try to address the very many conflicts we are facing."
Bach lauded Guterres' presence at the games. He says, "We are enjoying an excellent cooperation together in many areas."
The sister of the North Korean leader has arrived in South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Kim Yo Jong is the first member of her family to visit South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War. She's part of a high-level delegation attending the opening ceremony.
She smiled brightly as she was greeted by South Korean officials led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon at a meeting room at Incheon International Airport.
She was joined by other members of North Korea's delegation, including Kim Yong Nam, the country's 90-year-old nominal head of state; Choe Hwi, chairman of the country's National Sports Guidance Committee; and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North's agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.
Analysts say the North's decision to send Kim Yo Jong to the Olympics shows an ambition to break out from diplomatic isolation and pressure by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the United States.
Despite holding a lead heading into the final round of curling's mixed doubles match, the U.S. lost to reigning world champion Switzerland after the Swiss managed something exceedingly unusual: a perfect score known as a six-ender.
How rare is a six-ender?
Think of it as a perfect game in baseball.
Although Switzerland was behind by one point entering the final round, Jenny Perret and Martin Rios had an advantage: the right to throw the final stone of the game. They managed to get their first five stones into the house. They then promptly knocked the Americans' lone rock out of the house.
According to the World Curling Federation, no curling team has ever managed a perfect score at the Olympics.
Russian athletes at the Pyeongchang Olympics must wear neutral uniforms and compete under the Olympic flag, but their fans are making no secret of what country they're from.
A large contingent is holding up signs saying "Russia In My Heart" in Russian during the figure skating team event. The same message is spelled out in their shirts in English.
Russian skater Mikhail Kolyada struggled in the men's team short program, falling twice on quad jumps as he finished eighth.
The International Olympic Committee invited 168 athletes to compete, but they're being called "Olympic Athletes from Russia." If they win events, the Olympic flag will fly and the Olympic anthem will be played.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that another 45 athletes and two coaches excluded over doping concerns can't compete.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that 45 Russian athletes who were excluded from the Pyeongchang Olympics over doping concerns can't compete.
They and two coaches wanted the court to overturn the International Olympic Committee's decision not to invite them to the games, which open Friday.
The games will still include 168 Russians who have been invited as "Olympic Athletes from Russia," competing in neutral uniforms under the Olympic flag.