Winter Olympics to kick off in South Korea's Pyeongchang

While the Winter Games has been used as a pawn in relations between the two Koreas, athletes are gearing up for their chance at a medal.

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    Finally politics gives way to sport.

    The 23rd Winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang, has been used as a pawn in relations between North and South Korea in the past month.

    All the while Russia and the International Olympic Committee have been up against each other over competitors the IOC banned for life after the Sochi doping scandal.

    But over the next fortnight, 102 gold medals will be decided across 15 sports on snow and ice. For South Koreans pride is turning to excitement.

    A smiling army of volunteers tell me of their joy at being part of South Korea's biggest event since hosting the summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988. And crucially they assured me their uniforms were adequately combatting the cold. 

    Forecasters predict record-breaking low temperatures with some days expected to see minus 20 degrees Celsius and bitter winds. Ski-eras have actually complained about the effect of the cold on their equipment.

    But American superstar Lindsey Vonn will be happy to face the cold after missing the last Olympics due to an injury. Fellow American Mikaela Shiffrin is the bright new talent she's up against. 

    Nigerian bobsledders Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere will field the first bobsled team from the entire continent of Africa in Pyeongchang [Under Armour via AP Photo]

    The Nigerian women's bobsleigh trio has created even more interest. And in the spirit of the famous film Cool Runnings, yes there is a Jamaican team too. 

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    And then there's the man from Tonga: Pita Taufatofua, who was the opening ceremony star of Rio 2016 when he competed in Taekwondo. He'll be cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang.

    But the most remarkable breakthrough prior to this year's Games might be the unified Korean women's hockey team, which was announced just one month ago as part of a thawing in the tension between Seoul and Pyongyang. 

    The joint Korean women's ice hockey players practice together [Jae C Hong/AP Photo]

    The host nation does have high hopes of medals in speed skating, and home success is always an important ingredient in a successful Olympics.

    As long as it's done fairly.

    Russia faced the consequences of a systematic doping regime when it hosted in Sochi four years ago.

    Controversially, and as the snow finally settles, close to 200 so-called Olympic athletes from Russia will attend. There will be no anthem or fanfare for them, but they will have every chance of winning medals. 

    Russian President Vladimir Putin meets the Russian hockey players and others who will take part in the Winter Games as part of the Olympic Athletes from Russia designation [Grigory Dukor/AP Photo]

    Let's hope these games are cleaner than the last. Pyeongchang 2018 is the first of three Olympic Games in this part of the world. Tokyo hosts the summer event in 2020, and then it's Beijing for the next Winter Olympics in 2022.

    For the next two weeks, and after two failed bids and months of political tension, it's South Korea's time to open the Winter Games. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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