MX23RW : Saturday, January 19 00:48:10

Live Coverage: Pyeongchang 2018 - Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony

Live Coverage: Pyeongchang 2018 - Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony
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Follow Sports Mole's live coverage of the opening ceremony for the 2018 edition of the Winter Olympics from Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The world's biggest and greatest winter sport event - the Winter Olympics - has officially got underway with a lavish opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Over the next two weeks we'll see almost 3,000 athletes from 92 nations (plus Russia!) competing for glory in 102 events.

While the action had already got underway in a handful of events, the Games officially opened today with the pomp, procession and flags of the opening ceremony - relive every moment below with Sports Mole's live blog.


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10.00amGood morning and welcome to Sports Mole's live coverage of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Over the next fortnight we'll see the world's finest winter sports athletes do their thing, and for our part, we'll all become instant experts on sports we know next to nothing about.

It's just turned 7pm in South Korea, which means we're now one hour away from the start of the ceremony.


10.02amThere are 15 sports on the programme for the Winter Olympics, everything from ice hockey to curling and snowboarding - and of course, everyone's favourite, the bobsleigh. There is a record number of medals on offer in Pyeongchang - 102 - including new disciplines such as mixed doubles in the curling, mixed team alpine skiing, "mass start" speed skating and "big air" snowboarding.

10.04amSome 93 countries will compete in Pyeongchang, including six debutants: Malaysia, Nigeria, Kosovo, Ecuador, Eritrea and Singapore. Russia have been banned from competing under the Russian flag due to the doping controversy (more on that later) but Russian athletes will still be able to compete under a flag called "Olympic Athletes from Russia". I say potato, you say Olympic Athletes from Russia.

10.06amPyeongchang is located in the northern reaches of South Korea, about 110 miles away from the capital Seoul. Around 85% of Pyeongchang is mountain and the average temperature at this time of year is -5.5C, making it a perfect location to host the Winter Olympics. South Korea has previously hosted the summer Olympics once, when Seoul had the honour in 1988.

According to the most recent estimate five years ago, Pyeongchang has a population of just under 44,000 when Olympians aren't in town, a density of just 80 people for every square mile.


10.08amSouth Korea has spared no expense in staging this event, splashing out an estimated £9.3 billion on getting Pyeongchang ready. That's actually down on the £16 billion plus Russia spent on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, having originally budgeted a mere £3.5 billion.

Most of the money this time around has gone on building six new venues to host events, which will be split between the mountain ski resort of Alpensia for the outdoor events and the coastal city of Gangneung for the indoor events.


10.10amLast month North Korea made the shock announcement that it would be sending athletes to participate in the Games, and in a further twist it was agreed that athletes from both North Korea and South Korea will compete under the same flag.

The North's participation has raised eyebrows for obvious reasons - they have a nuclear-button-wielding madman in charge. Countries around the world have warned South Korea to be wary of a "charm offensive" by Kim Jong-un, who is accused of using his country's involvement in the Winter Olympics as a tool to irritate his megalomaniacal counterpart in the US, Donald Trump.


10.12amSales of toilet paper have no doubt boomed in South Korea over the last week after it emerged that there has been a major outbreak of Norovirus among security staff. Norovirus is a highly-contagious bug with highly-embarrassing effects: the infected can look forward to extended bouts of projectile vomiting and projectile defecation.

Around 1,200 members of security staff were quarantined as a result and, as of yesterday, some 128 of them had been confirmed as suffering from Norovirus. No athletes have yet been reported as suffering from Norovirus, so in theory the quick quarantine has worked.


10.14amThe temperature in Pyeongchang has also been of concern in the run-up to the Games, with some athletes even taking the decision to skip today's opening ceremony because it's too chilly. Current forecasts suggest that we will have an average temperature of -7C in the arena.

All of those attending the ceremony will be provided with a windbreaker, lap blanket, knitted cap, as well as a heated seat cushion and hand and feet warmers. Sounds bliss, actually.


10.16amLet's talk about deforestation! No, come back, please - I'll be brief. Pretty much every major sporting event comes in for some criticism for its impact on the environment and Pyeongchang is no exception. Specifically, the construction of the Jeongseon Alpine Centre sparked outrage from environmental groups after deforestation was required on the slopes of the Gariwang mountain. South Korea have pledged to restore the forest after the Games, but opponents have pointed out that old and ancient trees cannot be restored. Fair point.

10.18amAs I mentioned earlier, Russia has been banned from competing at the Winter Olympics after it emerged that the country had engaged in state-sponsored doping when they hosted the 2014 edition in Sochi. A number of medals were stripped from Russia as a result but they still topped the final medals table - so you can see why they are keen to participate.

10.20amThe issue of whether they can officially compete went right down to the wire - only today has the verdict of the final appeal been delivered, and it's a no-no. Some 169 Russian athletes have been allowed to compete but they must refer to themselves as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" and must march today under the Olympic flag. If any of them medal, the Olympic Anthem (always a favourite) will be played instead of the Russian one. Meanwhile, somewhere in Moscow, big Vlad Putin will be throwing caviar and blinis at his TV screen.

10.22amRussia was indeed the top nation in the Sochi 2014 medal table, with an eventual total - after all of the medal-stripping and subsequent appeals - of 29 medals, including 11 golds. Norway were hot on the Russians' heels with 26 medals - also 11 gold, followed by Canada on 25 (10G) and the USA on 28 (9G).

10.24amTeam GB managed just four medals overall for 19th place in the medals table, taking home one gold, one silver and two bronzes. While a paltry haul in comparison to the likes of Russia and Norway, it did still represent GB's joint-best ever showing at a Winter Olympics, matching the tally from 90 years earlier at our debut in Chamonix, France.

10.26amThat one gold went to Lizzy Yarnold, who absolutely killed it in the women's skeleton event. It's a particularly profitable event for Team GB, as we've now picked up a medal in the last four Winter Olympics. Lizzy is competing again this year and should she take top honours once more, she will become the first ever Briton to retain their gold medal at a Winter Olympics. Here's a reminder of her winning performance from four years ago:


10.28amLizzy's first job of the Games will be to lead out Team GB at today's opening ceremony as flagbearer. We have a 58-strong delegation of athletes competing in Pyeongchang, most of whom will be in attendance today.

Speaking of her flag-swishing honour, Yarnold said this week: "My first reaction when I was asked to be Flagbearer was complete excitement and I'm really proud to march in front of the whole team. There are so many talented athletes competing here for Team GB at this Olympic Games and hopefully this can be the start of our most successful ever Winter Olympics."


10.30amBig words, Lizzy, but the experts disagree with you. Team GB have had record funding to prepare for the Winter Olympics and have been set a target of between four and ten medals, but data specialist firm Gracenote has predicted we'll walk away with just two. They apparently have no faith in Lizzy whatsoever and don't expect her to medal, let alone retain gold, with our two projected medals - one silver, one bronze - coming in the speed skating.

10.32amOne person who has been denied the chance to not win a medal is GB snowboarder Katie Ormerod, who was sadly ruled out on the eve of the Games. The gods seemed to have it in for poor Katie, who first suffered a broken wrist earlier this week before being further blighted with a broken foot in training for the slopestyle event.

10.34amOne big hope for Team GB this time comes with Elise Christie, who will be participating in the aforementioned speed skating. Elise is a triple world champion and in 2016 set a new world record of 42.335 seconds in the 500m, so she's in good form.

At Sochi 2014, Elise was disqualified from her three events after being accused of deliberately causing the Korean favourite to crash. As a result she received thousands of abusive messages on social media, including death threats, so she won't be expecting a particularly warm reception from the home crowd this time.


10.36amEve Muirhead is also expected to provide a challenge for the podium in Pyeongchang. The captain of the women's curling team is a defending bronze medallist but has hopes of matching GB's gold-medal triumph over Switzerland in 2002. Eve is apparently also an "elite bagpipe player" so is bound to be providing the entertainment back at camp.

10.38amWith an outside chance of medalling for GB is Billy Morgan, who participates in the slopestyle competition and is renowned for his showboating. Billy finished 10th in Sochi but the introduction of the new "big air" event could be his ticket to glory.

10.40amCool Runnings is so last century. One of the most anticipated moments of the 2018 Games is the debut of the Nigerian bobsleigh team. The three-strong all-female team are hoping to make history in their country's debut appearance at a Winter Olympics and have said they "feel honoured" to be compared to the Jamaican legends from 30 years ago.

10.42amNorway come into the Winter Olympics as one of the fiercest competitors and could well top the medal table, but one thing they definitely won't be winning any awards for is counting. One of the most amusing stories in the run-up to the Games involved Norway's chef, who thought he had ordered 1,500 eggs but had instead asked for 15,000.

Meanwhile, Iran have been involved in a minor fracas after their athletes were not provided with complementary Samsung phones as part of their Pyeongchang gift bags. Donald Trump is thought to be ultimately responsible because of US sanctions against the country - sanctions which would have been broken had they been gifted the phones. Iran's Olympics head has accused the organisers of insulting the country's "pride, identity and dignity".


10.44amOver the next two weeks we'll be witness to some of the best athletes excelling in their chosen fields. But there's also the chance it could go wrong in embarrassing fashion. With just over 15 minutes to go now until the opening ceremony begins, what more apt time could there be to take a look at some of winter sport's biggest fails? You're not a bad person for laughing, you're really not.


10.46amAs I mentioned earlier, the action has technically already got underway in Pyeongchang due to the packed schedules of some sports, curling in particular. And that's not without its controversy already - on the first day of competition, during a match between China and Switzerland, members from both teams appeared to move the stones towards the end of the match.

Canada - as expected - currently lead the way in mixed doubles curling after four sessions, with Norway and Russia - sorry, the Olympic Athletes from Russia - close behind. The USA are seventh out of eight as it stands.


10.48amWhile the action has started, there have been no medals handed out just yet. The first of those comes tomorrow with the cross-country skiing, while there will also be shiny things up for grabs in speed skating, biathlon and ski jumping.

GB will first be in action tomorrow (in the wee hours, UK-time) with Billy Morgan and Jamie Nicholls in snowboard slopestyle qualifiers, while Elise Christie gets her Olympics schedule underway with the 500m heats.


10.50amThere are just 10 minutes to go now, so what do we know about the opening ceremony? Well, it's being held at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium - see what they did there? - which has been built at a cost of £72m and will be used solely for the opening and closing ceremonies before being quite unceremoniously demolished.

The "message" of the ceremony is apparently "peace" - you listening, Kim? - and will feature 2,000 performers as well as an unspecified number of animals. The ceremony will also feature 5G technology and include a veritable feast of performances from K-Pop stars. There are unconfirmed rumours that South Korea's most famous musical export, 'Psy', will also be "performing".

Ahh, go on then:


10.52amAmong the dignitaries in attendance tonight are Kimmy's sister Kim Yo-jong, who has already been cosying up to South Korean president Moon Jae-in (don't look into her eyes, Moon!)

French president Emmanuel Macron, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and assistant-to-the-US-president Mike 'I'm definitely not homophobic, honest' Pence are also on the guestlist.


10.54amRemember this guy?

Bare-chested Tongan Pita Taufatofua at the opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics in 2016

Pita Taufatofua became a viral sensation at the Rio Olympics back in 2016 when he led out his Tonga team bare-chested during the opening ceremony. Well, he's a Winter Olympian now, having decided to become a cross-country skier, and is on flag duties again today. Fans of babyoil and male chests will be disappointed, however - Pita has confirmed that he won't be getting his nips out in sub-zero temperatures.


10.56amThis is usually about the time we'd be making a prediction in one of our live commentaries, so here goes.

Flags. Tens and tens of flags. A flag-fest, a wet dream of flags, a flagophile's playground.

And flagpoles. Tens and tens of flagpoles.

Lots of people holding and waving flags, probably grinning as they do so.

Commentators like myself struggling to talk about the aforementioned flags, flagpoles and flagbearers.


10.58amWe're almost ready to go at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, which is lit up in bright purple and surprisingly not quite full to its 35,000 capacity. Temperatures are apparently slightly warmer than expected but still sub-zero.

11.00amAn opening video which shows people arriving at an airport for the Winter Games. There are close-ups of baggage reclaim, passport control and airport lounges.

11.02amCountdown in the stadium now, children are screaming the numbers in Korean. What appears to be a malfunctioning Dalek is front and centre in the middle of the stadium.

11.02amAn early display of firework prowess from all parts of Pyeongchang before the video resumes. Five children - apparently our guides for tonight - frolic on the snow and find a mysterious glowing orb. Each child represents one of the five elements - Captain Planet is spinning in his grave.

11.05amA mechanical white tiger struts into the stadium as the unfazed children dance around it.

11.07amA mountain landscape is projected onto the floor of the stadium as various other mechanical creatures enter the fray. The boy in the red has taken a particular liking to a giant bird.

11.11amThe first use of augmented reality in tonight's ceremony sees a constellation of stars appear above our dancing creatures, and with that, it's time for the important people to get a nod.

11.12amPresident Moon waves to the crowd as he is introduced, with IOC president - and lover of long speeches - Thomas Bach following him into the arena.

11.14amA performance now on janggu drums by hundreds of women, some of whom have the pleasure of being seated in the middle of the stadium, while others are doing a Sound of Music-style run around the arena while banging their tune out. Think an all-female version of Stomp.

11.17amThe women in white in the centre hoist up their dresses and reveal a mixture of red and blue garments - and from a wide camera shot we can see they have formed the South Korean flag! Smart. On cue, eight South Korean athletes enter the stadium carrying a less impressive version of the flag. It's officially our first flag of the ceremony and frankly I cannot contain my excitement.

11.20amEach of the athletes is getting an introduction as they make their painfully slow walk around the stadium. Most of them seem to be summer Olympians rather than winter ones, but sure.

11.21amEveryone stands for the South Korean national anthem, performed by the Rainbow Children's Choir, as the flag is hoisted high. The anthem is quite sweet - it sounds a bit like To Be A Pilgrim crossed with the theme from Last of the Summer Wine.

11.23amEyes down, look in - it's time for the Parade of Athletes. First up, as tradition, is Greece, who have just four athletes competing this year.

11.25amGhana are next up with just their second ever competitor, Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, who will be the first West African to participate in skeleton and is positively beaming as he enters the stadium.

11.26amMuch warmth from the crowd as the Nigerian bobsleigh team enter, swiftly followed by South Africa's sole representative, alpine skier Connor Wilson.

11.27amTwo big hitters next - the Netherlands, defending a record medal haul in Sochi and the mighty Norway, who have won more medals than any other nation in Winter Olympics history. Their delegation includes cross-country skier Marit Bjorgen, who is hoping to become the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time.

11.29amNew Zealand next, followed by Denmark, who have sent 17 competitors in the hope of securing just their second ever medal.

11.29amGermany enter the stadium with their fearsome 156 athletes, all dressed in coats which - if I'm being completely honest - are a disgusting shade of brown. Norovirus sufferers, look away now.

11.31amTimor-Leste's sole competitor - slalom star Yohan Goutt Goncalves - follows up Germany, then in come Latvia, who equalled GB's haul with a record four medals in Sochi.

11.33amAnother of the single-competitor nations now, Madagascar, who are fielding just their second ever Winter Olympian - alpine skier Mialitiana Clerc.

11.36amMexico now, who have a turncoat among their ranks - Sarah Schleper previously represented Team USA in the slalom at the Winter Olympics but has now hopped across the border as one of just four Mexican athletes competing.

11.36amPsy's 'Gangnam Style' begins playing as Montenegro enter the stadium. Disappointingly, no-one is doing the associated dance.

11.37amI lie - the assorted children are now channeling their inner Psy. Mongolia, next to enter, are having no part of it.

11.38amFirst big cheers of tonight as the largest ever team in Winter Olympics history - Team USA - enter the stadium. The US have sent 248 athletes to Pyeongchang and are led out by luger Erin Hamlin.

11.42amThe land-locked nation of San Marino come out next, and specifically sole competitor, the slalomer Alessandro Mariotti.

11.44amSweden have 118 competitors at the Winter Olympics but only a handful of them have turned up tonight. The Swedes picked up 15 medals in Sochi, including two golds.

11.50amIceland enter the stadium, its small team performing their own cha-cha slide dance routine as they do so. Iceland have never won a medal at the Winter Olympics, despite having the word "ice" in their name.

11.50amEritrea make their Winter Olympics bow, sole competitor Shannon-Ogbani Abeda waving his flag proudly to the sounds of RuPaul's 'Main Event'.

11.52amTEAM GB ENTER THE STADIUM! Lizzy leads out the 55-strong delegation, all looking fearsome in padded blue coats.

11.53amAustria's 105 athletes enter the stadium, swiftly followed by... OLYMPIC ATHLETES FROM RUSSIA. They all look angelic in white from head to toe.

11.55amUzbekistani flag bearer Komiljon Tukhtaev looks up at his flag with unwarranted intensity as he makes his way around the stadium.

11.59amIndia's Shiva Keshavan leads out his country for what will be his sixth and final Winter Olympics. Applause follows for the arrival of Jamaica, whose bobsleigh team are in high spirits and in the mood to dance as they make their way around the stadium.

11.59amNext up is China, fielding 81 athletes in Pyeiongchang - including the Winter Olympics' youngest competitor this year, 15-year-old halfpipe skier Wu Meng.

12.01pmHuge cheers now as the 226 athletes of Canada enter the stadium with two flagbearers. Co-flagbearers, as I suppose they should be called. They boast the oldest competitor of the Games, 51-year-old curler Cheryl Bernard.

12.06pmNext up, Turkey. The BBC commentator has just informed us that Turkey "produces 75% of the world's hazelnuts". A fact so fascinating I couldn't resist passing it on.

12.06pmHE'S SHIRTLESS! Pita comes out, fully oiled up and bare-chested, for Tonga.

12.09pmPuerto Rico now and their sole competitor, 17-year-old alpine skier Charles Flaherty, who looks to be beaming with excitement.

12.11pmFor those that missed it, here's Pita's very brave entrance into the Olympic Stadium, where temperatures are around -7C.



12.12pmVery big moment here now as the unified teams of North and South Korea come out into the stadium to the biggest roar of the night.

12.17pmMore fireworks now in celebration of the flags part of the ceremony having been completed.

12.19pmTime for some music. The five Captain Planet knockoff kids from earlier are back in the arena, sailing around on a raft and looking wide-eyed - and dare I say, mildly distressed - as an old man sings a traditional Korean song.

12.21pmThe five kids have now travelled through time in order to see their future selves - one has become a doctor, one an AI specialist, one a K-popstar, one an "urban simulation expert" and the last one became a serial killer.

12.23pmSomething for everyone there. South Korea is also reimagined 20 years down the line, complete with flying transport and enough holographic images to make your eyes bleed in what they say will be the "fourth industrial revolution".

12.27pmThere's a bit of a strange dance routine going on in the stadium now, involving what looks like bookshelves minus the books.

12.29pmThe bookshelves were all foreplay to a giant illumination demonstrating technology and communication. South Korea pushing very hard here on the assertion that it is the home of modern technology.

12.30pmUnfortunately it's now time for some speeches. Thomas Bach nearly takes a tumble down the stairs as he makes his way down to the podium. Alas, the speech will proceed.

12.32pmFirst up to talk is Lee Hee-beom, the bloke in charge of organising Pyeongchang. He describes the Games as an "historic event" and talks about sport's "great power to unite".

12.34pm"The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle," he says, before telling the athletes that they are "already winners". Might as well just pack up and go home now then, eh?

12.36pmNext up is Thomas Bach, who practically wrestles the microphone out of Lee's hands - that's how eager this man is to deliver a speech. He lives for them.

12.37pmOne of the Korean athletes seated directly behind Bach is taking full advantage of the situation, holding his hands out either side of Bach whenever he makes a particularly emphatic point.

12.39pmBach appears to aim a dig at Russia here, saying that you can only really enjoy the Games if you "stay clean and respect the rules".

12.42pmWith the slightest hint of disappointment in his voice, Bach ends his speech by handing over to President Moon, who officially declares the Winter Olympics to be open. More fireworks.

12.43pmThe five children are children again now and are bearing candles, which they then use to light other candles, and so on. Apparently these candles are powered by "5G wireless technology".

12.47pmAn assortment of K-Pop stars butcher 'Imagine'.

12.50pmComputer-generated rings appear on a ski-slope, for some reason.

12.51pmBack in the stadium, it's another flag! This time it's the Olympic Flag, carried out by another eight Korean athletes, all dressed like Moll Flanders in her most promiscuous pomp.

12.55pmNow for the Olympic Anthem as the Olympic Flag is hoisted up the Olympic Flagpole.

12.57pmUnfortunately the Olympic Flag seems to have got itself slightly tangled up and is currently more akin to a used napkin.

12.58pmA timely gust of wind enables the flag to finally fulfil its job, just in time for the Olympic Oaths. Another tradition, this requires one athlete, one coach and one judge to each promise to not do anything untoward. You know, just like the Russians promised to do in 2014.

1.03pmFor those that missed it, here's one of the more bearable parts of the 'Imagine' cover:



1.04pmOut of nowhere, the Olympic Flame is in the stadium and being bandied around between famous Korean sportspeople en route to its final destination.

1.07pmBit of a workout for the penultimate two athletes entrusted with the flame, as they have to climb stairs all the way up the stadium in order to pass the torch on.

1.08pmWaiting there is Yuna Kim, renowned figure skater, who performs a small routine before collecting the torch and finally lighting the Olympic cauldron. There is an inappropriately-phallic third-party device involved as part of the process but I'll spare you the detail.

1.11pmWith the cauldron lit, time for another dance performance from a group of boys described as "dancers from the forest" who are "curious, fun-loving pranksters". Jeremy Beadle had nothing on this.

1.14pmLots of fireworks actually in the stadium now as those fun-loving pranksters get among the crowd and dance. What are they like?!

1.17pmWith one more burst of fireworks around Pyeongchang, the opening ceremony comes to a close. Thomas Bach makes a swift exit, no doubt heading to the VIP bar with President Moon.

1.18pmIt's fair to say that that won't go down as one of the most memorable opening ceremonies in history but it did its job. On which note, I've also done mine and this is where I must leave you, friends. Thanks for joining me for the opening ceremony today and enjoy the action over the next fortnight. It's goodbye from me!

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Lizzy Yarnold pictured in May 2014
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Yarnold named as Team GB flagbearer
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