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Tim Arsenault: North-South tension masked in Olympic ceremony

The 2018 winter games mascot.
The 2018 winter games mascot. - 123RF Stock Photo

There was pageantry, there were dignitaries, and the big guns were cheered.

But enough about Thursday’s military parade in North Korea, moved to a date near the start of the Winter Olympics in the neighbouring South for absolutely no ulterior motive of any kind, according to state media.

Pyeongchang, a cosy 100 kilometres from the demilitarized zone, was forced to follow its neighbour’s celebration of missile might with the opening ceremony of the optimistically branded Peace Games, which officially got underway with a festival of brotherhood that came off as well-intended, if a bit forced.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, their country’s apparent designated survivor, was the most prominent member of her delegation in attendance. But the sketchy-seeming detente between North and South was really brought to life by having a member of the joint Korean women’s hockey team from each side of the border be the penultimate bearers of the Olympic flame.

Sadly, it looks like we have to wait for another day to see the North’s highly touted “army of beauties.” Their group of 280 representatives reportedly includes 229 of these cheerleaders. For context, Canada sent 225 athletes.

South Korea wants to showcase a modern, clean, efficient image, one where pristine assembly lines churn out surprisingly high-quality cars, electronics and boy bands with equal precision. In the early going, the mix of in-stadium performances with pre-shot video montages was quite effective.

Tim Arsenault
Tim Arsenault

But the Winter Games canvas is only so big. For that reason, the gold medal for opening ceremonies will always go to Beijing, site of the Summer Games in 2008. The world was on the precipice of a financial meltdown, but China spared no expense to stage a live version of a gobsmacking cinematic spectacle, with a renegade Cirque du Soleil troupe thrown in for good measure.

There were the requisite historical references, which always play better to the home crowd. Maybe Pyeongchang might have driven interest in North America by flying in Selfie Kid from the Super Bowl.

Hilariously, CBC was offering an Internet stream of the ceremony in described video, which is all anyone got on television anyway. The reading of notes telling audience members what they’re supposed to be feeling should have been banned years ago.

Ironically, the on-air hosts were quiet during the rendition of "Imagine", which should have come with guidance like “John Lennon is not describing a pastoral Christian utopia but rather a world where the absence of any religion and material goods will result in peace.” Then cut to U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence storming out of the stadium.

It seemed like Canada’s flag bearers, the ice-dancing team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, didn’t get as much screen time as that dude from Tonga, but they still must have felt like they’ve been on a perpetual kiss cam all week. It’s apparent CBC loves them. On Tuesday, the network ran a special about the pair, and they joked around with Rick Mercer. I was sure a guest appearance on a very special episode of "Schitt’s Creek" was imminent.

Enjoy all the Armchair athleticism, follow the Games here.

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