Although the PyeongChang Winter Olympics unofficially kick off mid-week with several events — and NBC’s live coverage begins Thursday evening — the ceremonial start of the highly anticipated Games begin at 6 a.m. E.T. with the opening ceremony.
Here are some things to watch for:
Forecasters are predicting a possible record-setting chill, with real-feel temperatures as low as 7 degrees Fahrenheit at the open-air PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, which sits nearly a half-mile above the Sea of Japan and gets blasted with Siberian winds from the north. Organizers are so worried about spectators’ safety that they’ll be handing out poncho-style windbreakers, blankets and heating pads and have hastily built warm-up areas in the 35,000-capacity stands.
Without revealing all the specifics, organizers have said the theme of the ceremony will be “peace.” South Korea went with the theme even before North Korea agreed to the goodwill gestures of marching together under a common flag at the opening ceremony, and fielding an all-Korean women’s hockey team. Five children from the rural province around PyeongChang will perform an interpretation of Korean history to begin the ceremony, which will involve animals and about 2,000 performers, as well as augmented reality and other high-tech touches.
Hot American threads
Team USA is already breaking records with 242 qualified athletes, the largest delegation for any nation in Winter Olympics history. They’ll enter the stadium in a red, white and blue wave, decked out in gear designed by Ralph Lauren. The jackets are made of state-of-the-art threads with heat-conducting ink and are equipped with heaters that can be adjusted through the athletes’ cell phones.
With Russia officially barred from the PyeongChang Olympics for doping, its contingent of athletes who are cleared to participate as individuals will march into the stadium as “neutral” competitors, under an Olympic flag and wearing grey-and-red uniforms meant to downplay their Russianness. It’s an unprecedented punishment and a controversial half-measure, as the Russians will be able to celebrate with their national colors and anthem at the closing ceremony. Watch for defiant expressions of patriotism by Russian athletes.
A wide range of South Korean musical talent will be on display, including local girl-band sensation Hyolyn performing the national anthem, anticipated performances by K-pop musicians, and Grammy Award-winning opera singer Sumi Jo and tenor Ryu Jung-Phil singing the Olympic hymn.
A little-known Tongan martial arts expert became instantly famous at the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016 when he carried his nation’s flag wearing nothing but coconut oil on his bare torso. And now he’s back! In the past two years, Pita Taufatofua took up cross-country skiing and qualified for the Winter Olympics. As Tonga’s only athlete in PyeongChang, he’ll be carrying the flag again, presumably with more up top.
A short-lived stadium
South Korea has spent a reported $58 million on the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, saving time and money by foregoing a roof. It’s a construction designed for only four uses: the opening and closing ceremonies of the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics and the March 8-18 Winter Paralympics.
Afterward, South Korea plans to raze the stadium and leave a small museum and a much-smaller stadium in its place. The torch platform and cauldron are formed to resemble a traditional Korean “moon-bowl” held up by five finger-like supports.
The 2018 Winter Olympics will air live starting Feb. 8. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.