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Olympic flame lit in PyeongChang as 2018 Winter Games kick off

The colorful opening ceremony was broadcast in more than 200 countries and focused on peace with five children from the rural Gangwon province leading the show

PYEONGCHANG, February 9. /TASS/. The Olympic flame was lit on Friday night at the PyeongChang Stadium after President of South Korea Moon Jae-in declared the 23rd Winter Olympic Games open.

"I declare the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang open," the South Korean president said during the opening ceremony.

The torch with the Olympic flame, which had been passed from hand to hand for 101 days, was brought to the 35,000-seat capacity stadium after the Olympic flag was raised. Famous Korean Soprano Sumi Hwang sang the Olympic hymn as the Olympic flag was raised at the stadium.

Two players from the joint women’s ice hockey team of South and North Korea brought the torch up to the top step in front of the cauldron and handed it over to South Korean figure skater, the 2010 Winter Olympic champion and the 2014 Olympics silver medalist, Yuna Kim, who lit the cauldron.

According to the organizers, "The flame - 'Let Everyone Shine' - means to shine the whole Korean peninsula and the whole world. Together with the opening of the Olympics, the Olympic flame will burn more brightly toward the world."

Before the 2018 Games had been declared open and the cauldron with the Olympic flame was lit, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach delivered a speech.

"Welcome to the Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018," Bach said. "This is the moment we have all been waiting for."

"Now it is the time for PyeongChang," he said. "Let us share this Olympic experience with the world."

The colorful opening ceremony, which involved the cast of some 2,000 artists and volunteers and was broadcast in more than 200 countries, focused on peace with five children from the rural Gangwon province leading the show.

The Olympic Games’ traditional Parade of Nations lasted for almost an hour. Greek athletes customarily launch the Olympians’ parade, which this time ended with North and South Korean athletes, marching under a flag symbolizing the unity of the Koreas.

One of the national delegations in the parade, namely from Russia, marched under the IOC flag, which was carried by a volunteer assigned by the Games’ organizing committee.

On December 5, the IOC Executive Board announced its decision to suspend the entire Russian national team from taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang over multiple doping abuse allegations.

The IOC, however, stated that doping-free athletes from Russia could go to the 2018 Olympic Games under the classification of neutral athletes, or the OAR status, which stands for ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia.’ The IOC reserved the right to have the final word on Russian athletes, who would go to PyeongChang under the neutral status by sending them personal invitations.

Six-time Olympic champion in short track speed skating Viktor Ahn was among those, who did not receive an invitation from the IOC despite his fervent desire to compete in his native South Korea.

Viktor Ahn was born in South Korea’s Seoul as Ahn Hyun-Soo and initially competed for his native country’s team. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy’s Turin, he brought South Korea three golds and one bronze medal in short track.

After the 2006 Olympics in Turin, a string of injuries kept him sidelined from major short track competitions and before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada’s Vancouver he failed to qualify for the South Korean national team.

In 2011, he was granted Russian citizenship and announced his decision to speed skate for Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where he clinched three gold medals and one bronze medal.

In all, 168 athletes from Russia will be taking part in the 2018 Winter Games, while a total of 80 took part in the Parade of Nations during the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremonies of the two previous Winter Olympics, namely in Vancouver in 2010 and in Russia in 2014, were held indoors. The PyeongChang Olympic Stadium is an open-air facility and spectators at the ceremony had to dress warmly as the temperatures hovered around -7 degrees Celsius, while the wind-chill factor made it feel even colder.

The organizers foresaw such developments and provided all spectators at the entrance with a special package, which included a wool hat, a poncho, a heated seat cushion, a blanket and hand and foot warmers.

However, the chilly weather was next to nothing during the Parade of Nations for the Tongan delegation, which consists of only a single athlete. Tonga’s cross country skier Pita Taufatofua stole the opening show by appearing bare-chested and greased-up at the parade waving his national flag.

This was not the first time he whipped up such a stir. Previously, Taufatofua also appeared bare-chested at the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, where he competed as a taekwondo fighter.