Anger and excitement as Pyeongchang preps for opening ceremonies
Published Sunday, February 4, 2018 10:01PM EST
A warm reception for the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the south in more than three years would be a good start if the Pyeongchang games are to ease tensions between the warring neighbours. But a group of South Korean skiers are planning to give Kim Yong-nam a frosty welcome.
The athletes vowed to protest outside the Olympic stadium after they were cut from competition. Last week, the Korea Ski Association said only four alpine skiers, two men and two women, can compete. The decision was a devastating blow to the five other national team members.
It's just one example of the tensions on display as the two nations prepare to march and compete under one flag.
An air of excitement is tempered by persistent concern about the North Korean regime. Pyongyang's annual military parade has taken place in April for the past 40 years. This year, it’s scheduled for Feb. 8 to coincide with the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.
In his first press conference before the opening ceremony on Friday, International Olympics Committee President Thomas Bach struck a less than uplifting tone when he delved into two major blemishes on the reputation of international sport.
He spoke about the “tragic and criminal” case of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was recently sentenced to up to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting young women under the guise of medical treatment.
Bach also slammed the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) decision to overturn bans imposed by the IOC on 28 Russian athletes over state-sponsored doping concerns at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“The CAS decision is extremely disappointing and surprising for the IOC. We would never have expected this,” Bach said.
Those athletes are not yet officially eligible to compete. Bach said he is hoping for a final decision in the coming days.
Despite it all, the games are still bringing locals excitement and joy. Shopkeeper Kim Sung Ja, 72, is excited to see people from around the world arriving near her home ahead of the games.
“After we saw the Olympics in Seoul in 1988, I thought, why wouldn’t this happen here?” said Kim Sung Ja. “Now people from Canada, the United States, everywhere, are already coming to see me,” she told CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemin, through a translator.
A massive security force is on hand in South Korea in case the spirit of cooperation with the north suddenly sours. Police and nearly 50,000 soldiers are practicing drills near the newly constructed sports venues.
The late announcement of a joint north-south women’s hockey team has been hailed as a sign of progress. Canadian volunteer Carol Lord hopes to see the unity on the Korean team take hold off the ice.
“There is a chance of bringing South Korea and North Korea together, at least getting the talks going,” she said. “It’s doing something special.”
With a report from CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemin in Pyeongchang