GANGNEUNG, South Korea: North and South Korea competed together for the first time at an Olympics on Saturday as the first of 102 gold medals were decided against a fast-moving backdrop of diplomatic manoeuvring.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was among a high-level delegation in the stands as the joint Korean women’s ice hockey team took on Switzerland in their opening match.
The Games have triggered rapid reconciliation between the two Koreas, who are still technically at war.
There was joy for South Korea when short-track speed skater Lim Hyo-jun won the first gold for hosts on day one, claiming the men’s 1500m in front of a near-capacity crowd.
Earlier, Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla won the first title of the Games in the women’s skiathlon, followed by Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier who triumphed in the women’s 7.5km sprint biathlon.
Five gold medals were up for grabs on day one, concluding with Kamil Stoch’s attempt to become the first back-to-back ski jumping champion in the normal hill.
But most South Korean fans were fixated on the ice hockey, where the combined North and South women’s team appeared at a packed Kwandong Hockey Centre.
The two Koreas marched together at Friday’s opening ceremony but they have never before competed side-by-side at an Olympics.
Among the crowd was a large number of North Korea’s all-female “Army of Beauties” cheer squad, known for their tightly choreographed moves and chants.
At a Games rife with political overtones, US Vice-President Mike Pence was watching nearby as the first North Korean athlete competed — and flopped — on Saturday.
North Korean cheerleaders let rip in support for Choe Un Song but he was eliminated in the heats for the 1,500m short-track speed skating, failing to reach the semi-finals.
Earlier, Kalla won the skiathlon race ahead of Norway’s Marit Bjoergen, preventing her from collecting an unprecedented third straight gold medal in the event.
But Bjoergen still became the most decorated woman in Winter Olympics history as she claimed her 11th medal. Third came Finland’s Krista Parmakoski. In biathlon, Germany’s Dahlmeier took the honours in the women’s 7.5km sprint ahead of Norway’s Marte Olsbu and Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic.
Carlijn Achtereekte made her Olympic debut a golden one, leading a Dutch podium sweep in the women’s 3,000-metre speed skating. Ireen Wust, the 2006 and 2014 champion, was a narrow second with Antoinette de Jong third.