Simply powerful: Graceful human touch evident in elegant opening ceremony

SHARE Simply powerful: Graceful human touch evident in elegant opening ceremony

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 09: Flag bearer Erin Hamlin of the United States leads her country during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775095508

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — That was fast. And cold. I think it was fast because it was cold.

A beautiful, elegant and definitely brisk opening ceremony heralded the beginning of the 2018 Winter Olympics. It was the most frigid opening ceremony since the Lillehammer Games, which at least were sensibly held in the afternoon back in 1994. One has to think a nighttime, outdoor Winter Olympic opening ceremony just experienced its last gasp.

That said, what unfolded over two hours and 15 minutes was one of the most delightful ceremonies in recent memory. The touches were light and often fleeting. Opening ceremony storytelling usually drones on, but not Friday night.

The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics were the first to fully employ the intricate use of lighting to display patterns and tell stories on the stadium floor. No matter how common that has become now, it’s still breathtaking, as it was Friday night.

But the Pyeongchang organizers didn’t go anywhere near as big as Beijing did, which was to their great credit. The human touch was evident throughout, especially in their selections of the key players in the show.

Who would have thought not one but two golfers would be part of the pageantry? The legendary Se Ri Pak, who spawned her nation’s dominance of the women’s game 20 years ago, helped carry in the South Korean flag, and current LPGA star Inbee Park was one of the last to run with the torch inside the stadium. It’s always interesting to see which national sports stars organizers select for these coveted roles. There can be no doubt how much this country loves women’s golf after seeing Pak and Park show up with such significant parts in a winter show.

And then there was 2010 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim. Has a more lovely lighting of the cauldron ever been staged?

I think not.

She appeared out of the night sky, a vision in white, gliding across a small surface of ice at the very top of the stadium. Two members of the Korean women’s ice hockey team ran dozens of stairs to hand the torch to her, and she took things from there.

This staging was remarkably similar to Atlanta’s in 1996, when Olympic swimming gold medalist Janet Evans ran with the torch to a platform high atop the stadium, where she was met by Muhammad Ali, emerging from the darkness of a warm summer night. The only difference was 22 years of technology, especially in the dramatic possibilities of light as art.

This opening ceremony never forgot its purpose. The athletes looked to be having a ball as they marched — nearly ran — into the stadium. A Parade of Nations at breakneck speed? That’s something to be emulated in Tokyo in 2020, and beyond.

And no technology was necessary to bring the dignitaries who spoke — IOC president Thomas Bach and organizing committee CEO Hee-beom Lee — onto the stage for their moment in the spotlight. They went decidedly old school. They walked down an aisle between sections where the athletes were seated, then spoke at a podium with the athletes, specifically the unified Korean team, as their backdrop.

It was simple. It was powerful. And, just like almost everything else on a raw evening in the South Korean mountains, it was just the right touch.

Follow me on Twitter @cbrennansports.

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