The Olympic Games brings together the world in peace and harmony, and in Pyeongchang, the world became one. Transcending the differences of race, religion, nation and gender, we smiled together, cried together and shared friendship together. —Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee President Lee Hee-Beom
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — If there is a medal for attempting to embody the Olympic values of fair play, excellence and friendship, Pyeongchang should get the gold.
The closing ceremonies were the artistic embodiment of everything South Korea attempted to do in hosting the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. It began with a magnanimous gesture to a bitter enemy, and ended with a farewell show so optimistic it made the sight of the IOC president creating a heart with his hands alongside volunteers and athletes seem genuine.
Even the most positive, Olympic-loving South Koreans had mixed feelings with their president, Moon-Jae-in, not only inviting North Korea to the Games but also arranging for the two countries to march under a unified flag and combine players on a women’s hockey team.
While many found it moving, others found it pointless, a naïve extension of goodwill to leaders that didn’t deserve to bask in the spotlight of the Olympics.
Somehow, though, it was the gesture that became most important, and not whether it would actually bring peace to the Korean Peninsula or anywhere else in the world.
The ceremony — titled “The Next Wave” — began with a piece that melded an electric guitar with a geomungo, a traditional Korean string instrument. While the music played, dancers decked out in lighted suits performed a stunningly entertaining synchronized dance on the slope that led to the Olympic flame.
At the same time, center stage, other dancers performed the traditional "Spring Dance of Nightingale." There were fireworks, and a massive electric prayer pagoda that dropped from above the stage in a stunning moment that caused an audible gasp from the audience.
Above the stadium, the Olympic mascot appeared in lights (provided by drones), and then it morphed into a colorful heart.
It was fusion of every type, and some of it melded perfectly, while other aspects clashed almost abrasively.
It was the perfect, and somehow movingly accurate backdrop offered to the much smaller group of athletes who participated in the closing ceremonies.
Unlike the opening ceremonies, where there is a Parade of Nations, a moment for each country, the closing of the Games brings the flags in as one, and then the athletes somewhat mixed together.
After the South Korean flag was raised, Olympic medal ceremonies for the final cross-country events were held. It was oddly sad and, at the same time, fitting that two Russian athletes were forced to compete without their flag or national governing body because of a ban imposed in December after separate investigations found them guilty of a state-supported effort to not only give athletes banned substances, but mask that through tampered tests during the 2014 Olympics held in Sochi.
There wasn’t a moment that the stench of cheating didn’t waft over the Games, even threatening to overshadow the joyous celebration planned by the host country as the IOC waited until the very last minute to decide that two doping cases during the Pyeongchang Games meant Russian athletes could not carry the flag of their home country in the closing ceremonies.
Traditional moments contrasted sharply with the K-pop artists, and in the end, it seemed more a dance party with fireworks than a cultural tribute.
But as DJ Martin Garrix from the Netherlands worked his magic with the crowd, news broke that North Korea wanted to engage in talks with the United States. This message was relayed to U.S. officials through Moon Jae-in, but there is no way to know if or when it will happen.
Skepticism abounds, as it should.
But there is hope that 17 days ago did not exist.
“The Olympic Games brings together the world in peace and harmony, and in Pyeongchang, the world became one," said Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee President Lee Hee-Beom. "Transcending the differences of race, religion, nation and gender, we smiled together, cried together and shared friendship together.
"In particular, the athletes from South and North Korea built friendship, and it showcased much bigger possibilities beyond sport. When marching together, and even competing together as a unified Korean team, it constituted a strong identity of one single nation.
"The world paid its high tribute of admiration for the athletes of South and North Korea who marched and competed together during the Games. And the spectators in the stands shouted, 'We are one.' The seed of peace you have planted here in Pyeongchang will grow as a big tree in the not-distant future."
So maybe his sentiments will take hold. Maybe they’re not just political hyperbole or sentimental afterglow. Only time will tell.
“Even though it was a short period, Korea was happy because of your warm-hearted passion and friendship,” he said. “We will never forget you.”