New Delhi [India], Feb 9: The 23rd Winter Olympics open on Friday to a sudden thaw in ties between North and South Korea, while athletes shiver in sub-zero temperatures and Russia's doping scandal causes confusion and irritation on all sides.
Barely a month after rumblings of war on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-Un threatening to rain nuclear destruction on the United States, North Korean athletes will march into the opening ceremony alongside South Koreans for what is touted as the "Peace Olympics." When the Olympic flame is lit in Pyeongchang, a previously little-known corner of South Korea, around 3,000 athletes from all over the world will compete for a record 102 gold medals in 15 sports until 25 February.
Olympic officials are still scrambling to deal with the endless ramifications of Russia's state-sponsored doping scandal, which has already blighted two Olympic Games. After banning the entire team over the doping conspiracy, the IOC opened a loophole to allow more than 160 'clean' athletes back in and now more Russians are trying to force their way in through legal appeals.
But the welcome mat has been laid out for the North Koreans. In a gold-medal diplomatic performance, after months of silence on the issue, Pyongyang said it would be happy to send a delegation to the Games. North and South have been divided by the Cold War's last frontier since the 1950-1953 Korean war. Hostilities have never officially ceased, and occasional cross-border incidents punctuate a 70-year ceasefire.