After twelve months of missile testing and escalating tension, and with the games being held 50 miles from the world’s most heavily militarised border, there were questions about whether it would be safe for athletes and spectators to attend.
The geography hasn’t changed, but the headlines have.
In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to send a delegation of athletes and cultural performers to take part.
After the first talks in two years, the two Koreas agreed to form their first joint Olympic team, in women’s ice hockey, and to march in the opening ceremony under a unified flag.
The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, started referring to the “games of peace”.
It it noble that these games have provided some much-needed breathing space, but what they have not altered the fundamental reality on the divided peninsula.
A cruise ship carrying performers from North Korea arrived in the South, following officials and athletes who have already crossed the most militarised border in the world. The delegation attending the opening ceremony includes Kim Yong-nam, a 90-year-old political veteran and speaker of the North’s parliament, who is the highest-ranking official to visit the South since 2014.
The North’s delegation also includes President Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, a senior Workers’ Party official promoted to the politburo last year. She will be the first member of the immediate Kim family to cross the border between North and South Korea.
The move is widely being seen as an effort to ease tensions and promote dialogue between the two neighbours who never signed a peace treaty at the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Pope Francis, in a special greeting to the International Olympic Committee and all the athletes taking part in the Winter Games in South Korea, said the games offers hope for peace in that zone.
He said this year’s the traditional Olympic truce takes on a particular significance since delegations from both North and South Korea will be marching together at the opening ceremony and competing together on the same team.
The Pope said this fact offers hope for a “world in which conflicts can be peacefully resolved through dialogue and mutual respect”, reflecting the values which sport embodies.
“May the Olympics be a great celebration of sport and friendship,” he concluded.