Pyeongchang: The two Koreas marched together and South Korea's president shared a historic handshake with Kim Jong Un's sister as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony was held in a spirit of intense rapprochement here on Friday.
At a glittering but sub-zero ceremony, South and North Korea brought the crowd to its feet as they entered behind the blue-and-white Korean unification flag.South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook the hand of a smiling Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as he entered the VIP seating section, and again as the Korean athletes marched.
It cemented what has been a rapid improvement in Korean ties since North Korea -- after months of fierce nuclear rhetoric and missile tests - agreed last month to attend its first Olympics in the South.
Meanwhile, it sparked to life in a vivid, colourful ceremony of fire and ice, saw US Vice-President Mike Pence in attendance. The South is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and the United States and the North have recently swapped nuclear threats.
The Olympics have provided some respite from years of tense relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, though just hours before the ceremony hundreds of anti-North Korean protesters scuffled with riot police outside the stadium, burning North Korean flags and pictures of its leader, Kim Jong Un.
South Korea's frigid February, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, has come as a shock to the system for athletes and visitors alike in the leadup to these Games, prompting concerns about hypothermia at the opening ceremony.
The weather was a little milder than forecast on Friday, but spectators still huddled near heaters, holding hot packs and slurping down steaming fishcake soup to ward off the chills.
Bundled up in a scarf, mask and knitted hat, with hot packs tucked into her knee blanket, office worker Shin Hye-sook said she and her three colleagues were coping with the cold.
"It’s okay unless the wind blows," said the 60-year-old. "We’re sitting as close as we can and trying not to move a lot to save our energy."
South Korean figure skating superstar Kim Yuna lit the Olympic cauldron. Kim, who won gold at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and silver in Sochi four years later, performed a short skating routine before receiving the torch and sending flames shooting up to the cauldron.The Pyeongchang Games run till February 25.