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Seven thousand miles away, while America was waking up, the Olympic flame began burning as part of the Opening Ceremonies in PyeongChang.
For those who braved the 14-hour time difference (to Eastern time), NBC live-streamed the event. Despite being a relatively short (by Olympic standards) 2 hours 18 minutes, the pageantry didn’t disappoint. The Ceremonies started with fireworks and ended with the lighting of the Olympic flame. In between came an upbeat performance showcasing South Korea’s technological prowess and, of course, the Parade of Nations.
Flag bearer and luger Erin Hamlin led Team USA to a warm welcome. Another crowd favorite was the shirtless Tongan flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua. The Olympic Athletes from Russia marched in drab uniforms to a much more muted response. Marching last, the unified Korean team stole the show. It was only the fourth time that athletes from North Korea and South Korea have entered the Olympics together.
NBC will broadcast the Ceremonies again in prime time tonight, at 8 p.m. Eastern. This version will have commentary from hosts Katie Couric, who was tapped to place Matt Lauer after his firing, and Mike Tirico, who replaced Bob Costas as NBC’s prime-time host after a nearly three-decade run.
Tirico made his prime-time debut Thursday night. The Washington Post’s Rick Maese caught up with him before the Games to learn more about his new high-profile assignment. “I think trying to be Bob would be stupid. And that was one of his bits of advice: Be yourself,” Tirico said. “So I’m going to try to do that.” For the full Q&A, scroll down to the “Olympics Corner” section of this newsletter.
One of Tirico’s first acts as anchor was to throw the show to figure skating, which opened last night with the team event. Top contenders Canada, Russia (technically the Olympic Athletes from Russia) and the United States were among the nations that began the night with the men’s short program, followed by the pairs short program.
As far as skating goes, it was a pretty wild night of twists, turns, triumphs and spills. Want to see who came out in the lead? Scroll to the “What You Missed” section. Or check out Liz Clarke’s story.
Look out for the first medals of the Olympics in the wee hours of Saturday morning (Eastern time). Both South Korea (short-track speedskating) and the United States (cross-country, biathlon, speed skating) could find themselves on the podium. The joint North and South Korean women’s hockey team also takes the ice for the first time.
Confused about the rules? Want to know who the top contenders are? The Post has put together a “How to Watch” guide for each of the 15 sports in PyeongChang. Click links below the images to see your favorite sport.
ROW 1: Alpine skiing, Biathlon, Bobsled, Cross-Country Skiing, Curling.
ROW 2: Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Ice Hockey, Luge, Nordic combined
ROW 3: Short-Track Speedskating, Skeleton, Ski Jumping, Snowboarding, Long-Track Speedskating
Huddled under blankets and fueled by hand warmers, the world gathered in PyeongChang’s 35,000-seat Olympic Stadium to kick off the 23rd Winter Games.
The diplomatic box included Vice President Pence. As his guest, Pence invited the father of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea, released in a coma and later died. Fred Warmbier reportedly sat with the American team.
Also in attendance was Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. It’s the first visit to South Korea by any member of the family. Notably absent was Russian President Vladimir Putin, or any other head of that delegation. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Russia from the Games in the wake of a doping scandal.
The dignitaries watched as South Korea put on a fast-paced show. Featuring children, a mechanical tiger and plenty of fire, the Ceremonies hit many of the usual Olympic notes. But the high-tech displays, pop music (including “Gangnam Style”) and light shows were decidedly modern additions. PyeongChang’s performance was certainly a stark contrast from the stately opening to the Seoul Games 30 years ago.
One thing that doesn’t change much, however, is the Parade of Nations. As per tradition, Greece was first. Using the Korean alphabet, the U.S. came in after Mongolia. Hamlin led the roughly 240-athlete delegation, with Pence waving from his box. Team USA was sporting battery-powered jackets and gloves straight out of the Wild West.
The IOC allowed Russian athletes who can prove that they’re not doping to compete under the neutral Olympic flag. A total of 169 athletes were invited to participate under the exemption (a last-minute petition to add more was denied). Still, some big names are missing, such as speedskater Viktor Ahn, who was the most decorated male athlete in Sochi (three gold medals, one bronze).
As the host country, Korea entered last, to a huge applause (but not from Pence, who sat). North and South Korea entered together, with two flag-bearers (one hockey player from each nation). While their show of unity isn’t going over well with everyone, the crowd in PyeongChang seemed to love it.
The Olympic flame entered the stadium just before 8 a.m. Eastern. Handed off from one South Korean Olympic great to another, it ended up in the hands of figure skater Yuna Kim. The Olympic champion in 2010, and runner-up in 2014, Kim is a superstar in South Korea.
Just after 8 a.m. Eastern, Kim lit the flame and the Olympics were officially underway.
When American Nathan Chen was only 10, he predicted that he would be skating in the 2018 Olympics. Last night, at the age of 18, he made the dream come true. Sort of.
Nicknamed “King Quad” for his pioneering quadruple rotation jumps, Chen started by landing the first quad flip in Olympic competition. Then the usually unflappable Chen faltered. In a 2-minute 40-second span, he committed three major errors and finished fourth in the team event men’s short program. “That’s the worst short program I’ve ever seen from Nathan Chen,” NBC commentator Johnny Weir said.
Fortunately for Chen, both the Canadian and Russian entries also faltered (leaving Israel as the surprise early leader). American duo Chris Knierim and Alexa Scimeca-Knierim also had a strong fourth-place showing in the pairs short program. At the end of the night, that left the U.S. in second place overall (behind Canada).
The team event continues on Saturday night (Eastern).
Moguls, Curling, Weather:
Elsewhere, qualifying for the moguls skiing events got underway last night. Four Americans made it directly to the finals, and four others will have another shot in the second round of qualifying.
America’s mixed doubles curling team has dropped its last two games: 9-4 to Switzerland (on the last shot) and 9-1 to South Korea. That puts the U.S. at 1-3 overall, which pretty much eliminates it from medal contention.
Kim Yo Jung, sister of Kim Jong Un, shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The event might have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago.
Early Saturday morning, the first medals of the PyeongChang Games should start rolling in. There are medal events in cross-country skiing, biathlon, ski jumping and short-track speedskating. While the U.S. isn’t necessarily expected to be on any podiums, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. The host nation South Korea also has a shot at a medal.
Also on Saturday morning, Maame Biney will be the first African American woman to participate in speedskating at the Olympics (500-meter short-track qualifying, at around 5:56 a.m.).
Korea’s joint hockey team takes the ice for the first time Saturday morning (starting at around 7 a.m. Eastern, on USA). It’s the first time North and South Korea have fielded a combined team at the Olympics.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the weather continues to be a factor in PyeongChang. High winds are already threatening men’s downhill skiing, which is scheduled for Saturday night (Sunday morning in Korea). “We have some challenging days ahead,” chief race director Markus Waldner told Reuters.
Look who showed up for the Opening Ceremonies …
Throughout the Games, we’ll occasionally bring someone in to help us better understand the Olympics. Today: Mike Tirico.
For 11 straight Summer and Winter Games — dating back to 1992 — Bob Costas served as the familiar and reliable face of the Olympics. But Costas is sitting out the PyeongChang Games and has passed the torch to Tirico, who will serve as NBC’s prime-time host, starting with Friday’s Opening Ceremonies. Tirico joined the network in 2016 after more than two decades at ESPN and was a daytime host of the Rio Games. He recently spoke with The Washington Post’s Rick Maese about his new high-profile assignment.
Q: It’s not like you’re a newcomer to this broadcasting game, but did you seek out Costas for any advice?
A: There’s been a longtime friendship there. I don’t think that’s overstating it. And I can’t imagine this job changing hands more smoothly. Bob has been unbelievable in making himself available, if I have any questions. I know I can pick up the phone during the Games, and if I have a question, I know I’ll get an honest answer. Bob’s the all-time best. Bob set a standard for the amount of times he did this and the way he did it that likely won’t be matched ever again. So I’m not replacing him; I’m following him. I think trying to be Bob would be stupid. And that was one of his bits of advice: Be yourself. So I’m going to try to do that.
Q: He’s so identifiable with the Olympics. Are you worried about the inevitable comparisons?
A: You’re human — of course comparisons matter. But it’s not going to affect what I do or how I do it. Here’s my opinion — nobody will be sitting in Bethesda on the second Tuesday of the Games, saying, ‘I need to watch Mike on the Olympics.’ They say, ‘I’m going to watch to the Olympics.’ Nobody tunes in for the person sitting in Studio A at the International Broadcast Center. They tune in for Mikaela Shiffrin or Nathan Chen or Lindsey Vonn or Chloe Kim. Nobody’s watching the Games because I’m sitting in the chair at 8:05 Eastern time to send you off to Terry Gannon and Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski.
Q: Given your busy fall and winter schedule, how were you able to follow all these different sports and athletes — particularly the ones that for many people only pop up once every four years?
A: The best piece of advice that I got from Bob and from Al [Michaels] before the Rio Games working daytime: You don’t have to know everything about everyone. It’s impossible. The experts at each sport have that covered. In the host role, you just need to have the overriding story lines. I’m trying to get to the top of the surface. It’s like one of those fancy Starbucks drinks — you do want to get some of the coffee, but you want to make sure you get all foam. But how has my life changed? I’m sitting in my office right now. Two years ago, I certainly would be watching a replay of a Big Ten or an NBA game from the night before. And right now I’m watching the women’s skeleton competition from Germany. And it’s the fourth different Olympic event that I’ve watched since I’ve been up this morning.
Q: NBC seems to pride itself in identifying the characters and story lines that move an audience. Who do you think will emerge from these Games and really connect with people back home?
A: I think there’s almost a beginning, middle and end, where you have Chloe Kim and Nathan Chen in snowboard and men’s figure skating. They look like they belong with the best of the world, and now here’s their first opportunity on the Olympic stage to do it. I think those two on the youth side. On the end of the scale a little bit, Lindsey Vonn, who’s kind of pieced herself back together. It’s been eight years and she is doing everything she can to be in the right place physically and mentally to go do it again. So the back end is Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White — can they do it one last time? Chloe and Nathan — can they do it for the first time? And in the middle is Mikaela Shiffrin. If Mikaela takes on a heavy program, we could be looking at a very special Olympic Games. So it’s the new kids, it’s the old guard back for one more shot at it, and in the middle, somebody who’s in the prime of what looks like a great career with a chance to have an Olympics that they’ll talk about for generations.
Q: They’re talking about PyeongChang being one of the coldest Winter Games ever. Are you prepared for the freezing temperatures?
A: I don’t think I’ll be as cold as Heather Cox, who’s going to be at the bottom of the hill doing the interviews in the Alpine mixed zone. I won’t be as cold as Heather will be. But I hope to get out. I’m sure if we can physically walk somewhere during the day, I will. I went to college in Syracuse and I live in Michigan. So cold is just something you deal with. It’s not something that me bothers me at all. It’s cold. I love that. This is the Winter Olympics.
This interview was edited for length.
The 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Games were the first to be televised live in the United States. Let’s compare them to PyeongChang.
$50,000 – How much CBS paid for the rights to broadcast the Squaw Valley Games.
$963 million — How much NBC paid for the PyeongChang games.
15 — Hours of coverage on CBS for 1960 Games.
1,800+ — Hours of NBC coverage (broadcast or streaming) in PyeongChang.
665 — Number of athletes in Squaw Valley. They competed in eight sports and 27 events.
2,922 — Number of athletes in PyeongChang (1,705 men, 1,217 women)
30 — Countries that competed at the 1960 Games.
92 — Countries competing in PyeongChang (including the Olympic Athletes from Russia).
Below is a TV roundup for the rest of today and tomorrow, taken from The Post’s comprehensive TV guide. All Olympic events can also be streamed live online at NBColympics.com (here’s that schedule). Times are Eastern.
Friday, Feb. 9
8-11 p.m. Opening Ceremonies
Saturday, Feb. 10
3-6 p.m. Men’s snowboarding, slopestyle; short-track speedskating, men’s 1,500-meter gold; men’s ski jumping normal hill gold; men’s luge, singles
8-11 p.m. Figure skating, team event, ice dancing and women’s short programs (LIVE); men’s downhill gold
11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Figure skating, team event, pairs free skate (LIVE)
2-5 a.m. Women’s cross-country, skiathlon gold (LIVE); mixed doubles curling, U.S.-China
5-7:35 a.m. Men’s short-track speedskating, 1,500 gold (LIVE)
7:35-11:30 a.m. Men’s ski jumping, normal hill gold (LIVE); men’s snowboarding, slopestyle
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Men’s luge, singles
1-5 p.m. Women’s speedskating, 3,000 gold; women’s biathlon, 7.5km sprint gold; mixed doubles curling, U.S.-Norway
7-9:45 p.m. Men’s snowboarding, slopestyle gold (LIVE)
9:45 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Mixed doubles curling, U.S.-Finland; women’s snowboarding, slopestyle (LIVE)
1:30-2:40 a.m. Mixed doubles curling, Canada-South Korea
7-9:30 a.m. Women’s hockey, Switzerland-Koreas (LIVE)