Political end to Olympics: N. Korea offers talks with US


Associated Press

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea

The overtly political 2018 Winter Olympics closed Sunday night very much as they began, with humanity’s finest athletes marching exuberantly across the world stage as three nations with decades of war and suspicion among them shared a VIP box – and a potential path away from conflict.

Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. presidential adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump sat in two rows of seats behind the Olympic rings, meant to represent a competition of peace and international unity. In close proximity – though with no apparent communication between Trump and Kim – they watched a spirited, elaborate show that concluded the Pyeongchang Games.

Even as dancers performed cultural stories to music before a huge crowd, South Korea’s presidential office released a brief statement saying that Pyongyang had expressed willingness to hold talks with Washington.

The North has “ample intentions of holding talks with the United States,” according to the office. The North’s delegation also agreed that “South-North relations and U.S.-North Korean relations should be improved together,” Moon’s office, known as the Blue House, said.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, just before declaring the games closed, addressed the two Koreas’ cooperation at the closing ceremony, saying, “The Olympic games are an homage to the past and an act of faith for the future.”

“With your joint march you have shared your faith in a peaceful future with all of us,” Bach said. “You have shown our sport brings people together in our very fragile world. You have shown how sport builds bridges.”

It was all an extraordinary bookend to an extraordinary Olympics that featured athletic excellence, surprises and unexpected lurches forward toward a new detente on the Korean Peninsula. Thrilled athletes marched into the arena around the world’s flags, relaxed after showing their athletic best to themselves and to the world.

Away from the politics, humanity’s most extraordinary feats of winter athletic prowess unfolded, revealing the expected triumphs but also stars most unlikely – from favorites such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn to sudden surprise legends such as Czech skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka and the medal-grabbing “Garlic Girls,” South Korea’s hometown curling favorites.

Other Olympic trailblazers: Chloe Kim, American snowboarder extraordinaire, the U.S. women’s hockey team and men’s curlers, both of which claimed gold, and the Russian hockey team, with its nail-biting, overtime victory against Germany.

What’s next for the games? Tokyo in Summer 2020, then Beijing – summer host in 2008 – staging an encore, this time for a Winter Games. With the completion of the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, that Olympic trinity marks one-third of a noteworthy Olympic run by Asia.

For those keeping score at home: That means four of eight Olympic Games between 2008 and 2022 will have taken place on the Asian continent.

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