Even with the swirling international tensions, South Korea seems to be handling its business well in getting ready for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. While over a half century of conflict with the totalitarian government to the north will loom over any international event held in South Korea, the country can still avoid being the dumpster fire that was the 2014 games in Sochi.
That being said, the 2018 Winter Olympics will be like all previous games with high and low points intertwined with controversy. Here are five things to watch.
1. North Korea
In truth, the whole article could be devoted to this one issue. We’ll start with the good points first. Both the North Korea and South Korea teams will once again march in the opening ceremony under the Korean Unification Flag, which is used to represent all of Korea in sporting events. Also, the women’s ice hockey team will play as a unified team representing both countries.
Now to the negatives; the day before the opening ceremony, North Korea has planned a parade in Pyongyang that will showcase hundreds of missiles and rockets and emphasize its military might to the world… or maybe just the United States. Speaking of the United States, Vice President Mike Pence will bring Fred Warmbier to the opening ceremony. Warmbier’s son, Otto, was jailed in North Korea, suffered severe brain damage while imprisoned, and died shortly after being returned to the United States last year. Reminding the world of this tragedy is part of the Vice President’s effort to stop North Korea’s oppressive regime from being normalized.
So it will be impossible for games to take place without the hostilities between the three countries always being present. And let’s face it; the President is going to Tweet about it.
2. Soohorang and Bandabi
The 2018 Olympics’ mascots are Soohorang, a white tiger, and Bandabi, an Asiatic black bear. While Olympic host cities have been creating mascots for each games since 1968, these two will get more attention because they have been featured on North Korean propaganda being balloon-dropped into South Korea.
After hosting and dominating the 2014 games, Russia has been banned from participating this year because of state-backed doping of athletes. The sanctions bar Russian government officials from attending the Olympics, the country’s flag from being shown, and its national anthem from being played. However, Russia will be sending 169 athletes who will complete under the Olympic flag as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” The world will be watching to see how that appears and how those athletes perform.
4. No NHL players
After allowing its players to compete in the past five Olympics, the NHL will not be sending players to the 2018 games. The reasons boiled down to opposition from the teams and fans in both the United States and Canada. In addition, competing in the games requires the league to suspend its season for almost three weeks. The teams fielded this year will represent a new era of Olympic hockey, featuring a mix of amateurs, non-NHL professionals, and retired NHL players.
To close on a completely positive note, the PyeongChang area offers one of South Korea’s best views of the sun rising. Hopefully, NBC will give us a glimpse of it in its coverage.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.