A welcome event for North Korea's Olympic team was held Thursday at the athlete's village for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, one day before the opening of the first Winter Games in South Korea.
The ceremony for the 46-strong North Korean team, which features 22 athletes, was held at the Gangneung Olympic Village at Gangneung, a sub-host city of the Winter Olympics. About 30 members of the delegation, led by Pyongyang's vice sports minister and former weightlifter Won Kil-u, attended the event.
The North's participation in the Winter Olympics came after the two Koreas held a series of meetings last month following a years-long hiatus caused by the reclusive state's repeated missile and nuclear provocations. The country will compete in three sports and five disciplines -- women's hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing.
|Won Kil-u (L), head of the North Korean Olympic team, shakes hands with Kim Ki-hoon, head administrator of the Gangneung Olympic Village, at an welcome event for the team at the athletes' village in Gangneung on Feb. 8, 2018. (Yonhap)|
Scores of international reporters, volunteers and staff of the local Olympic organizing committee swarmed the event, hoping to get a rare glimpse of the Olympians from the highly-reclusive communist state. Many were seen taking photos and videos using smartphones to capture the moment. Some 20 North Korean reporters also came to cover the event.
"I hope that you will enjoy this festival, respecting one another, including our unique nationalities and cultures, united under the Olympic spirit, for the next few weeks," Kim Ki-hoon, former short track speed skater who serves as the head administrator of the village, said in his welcome speech, without specifically mentioning the North.
In line with protocol, the North Korean national anthem played while the country's flag was raised. Hoisting the North Korean flag is illegal here, but it is allowed at the Olympic venues as a right approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
|An all-female North Korean marching band is seen at a welcome event held for the North's Olympic squad at the Gangneung Olympic Village in Gangneung, a venue for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, on Feb. 8, 2018. (Yonhap)|
Similar to welcome events for other countries, Olympians from the North were initially greeted by performances by a traditional Korean percussion team and a modern street dance crew. But what really stole the show was a medley by an all-female North Korean marching band, part of a 229-strong cheerleader squad from the North that traveled to the South on Wednesday.
The performance, consisting of seven songs, included familiar traditional Korean numbers, including "Nice To Meet You," "Arirang," and "Ongheya."
Though initially appearing rigid, North Korean athletes later loosened up as the 80 band members, dressed in knee-high white boots, red uniforms and rocking croissant-style hairdos, performed the medley with light cadence movements. Athletes smiled while singing, swinging their arms together as they held hands and later danced hand-in-hand around the life-size PyeongChang Olympic mascot, Soohorang, at the event.
Most of the North Korean delegation refrained from speaking to the press, but some expressed joy in being part of the Olympics. "Hello. Nice to meet you," shouted Ryom Tae-ok, the country's female figure skater, after the event. (Yonhap)
|Ryom Tae-ok (front, R), a North Korean figure skater, waves along with her country's Olympic delegation during a welcome event held at the Gangneung Olympic Village in Gangneung, a venue for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, on Feb. 8, 2018. (Yonhap)|
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