Feb. 9 (UPI) — The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang started Friday with a theme of peace, as nations from around the world were introduced in a grand opening ceremony that kicked off the peninsula’s first Olympics in 30 years.
After opening segments of pageantry showcasing children following a white tiger on a quest for peace, the traditional parade of nations began at Olympic Stadium.
One of the main highlights of the parade came at the end of the procession, as athletes from North and South Korea marched as one group. Dressed in white and marching together, the unified group carried one flag.
Carrying the Korean unification flag was South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong and North Korean ice hockey player Hwang Chung-gum.
As the athletes entered, many arm-in-arm, crowds cheered as South Korean president Moon Jae-in shook hands with North Korean legislative leader Kim Yong Nam — and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Un.
Both Koreas brought their largest delegation ever with 219 athletes from the South and 46 from the North, according to Yonhap. Also a first, the Koreas have formed a joint women’s hockey team.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said at the ceremony the Korean athletes are in inspiration for all “to live together in peace and harmony despite all our differences.”
“A great example of this unifying power is the joint march here tonight of the two teams from the National Olympic Committees of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We thank you,” Bach said.
“All the athletes around me, all the spectators here in the stadium, and all Olympic fans watching around the world: We are all touched by this wonderful gesture. We all join and support you in your message of peace. United in our diversity, we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”
Attendees at the open-air stadium — which included the U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — had to brave the cold elements. South Korea’s state weather agency reported a temperature of 27 degrees Fahrenheit during the ceremony, which was held about 110 miles east of Seoul.
As custom, the Greek team began the parade, followed by teams entering in alphabetical order based Korean language names. The host nation is introduced last. A number of “neutral” Russian athletes marched in the parade — those cleared by the IOC to compete amid of a doping ban — and carried an Olympic flag.
Nearly 3,000 athletes from more than 90 countries will compete at the Pyeongchang Games in 102 medal events. The U.S. Olympic team sent 242 athletes — including 135 men and 107 women, which is the largest for any nation in the history of the Winter Olympics.
The Pyeongchang Olympics are the second ever to be held on the Korean Peninsula, and its first Winter Games. Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics.