Rosie DiManno: Pyeongchang Olympics end with sentimental ceremony, diplomatic thaw
But the relaxing of tensions between North and South Korea has petered out. It was always more façade than geopolitically genuine.
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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA—Moments. Memories. Montages.
A sentimental evening as a quarter-moon rose over the picturesque pentagonal Olympic Stadium. Never looking prettier than it did on this night, with pyrotechnics exploding overhead and a couple of thousand giddy all-done athletes stuffed in below.
The ecstasies and the agonies are in the past. Medals won and lost in the XXIII Winter Games. This was a time for kicking up the heels and snapping selfies, French pairs skater Vanessa James — she’s from Scarborough — held aloft on Morgan Ciprès’ shoulders, a whole bunch of South Korean athletes wearing humongous Olympic ring glasses, and Kim Boutin, triple medallist, carrying the maple leaf flag in front of a considerably large Team Canada.
Guess a whole lot of them hung in for Sunday’s closing ceremony.
Everybody heave a sigh of relief. But most especially the Pyeongchang Olympic Games Organizing Committee. They got it done with only a sprinkling of glitches over the past fortnight. And they brought it home, with laser strobes punching the darkness, fireworks cascading, a children’s choir singing the national anthem, a Korean pop-diva strutting the stage, a precocious 13-year-old boy wailing Vivaldi on an electric guitar, a giant sea turtle — “a mythic creature that conveys messages from humans to the gods,” as per my program — seeming to float overhead, jumbo puppets, breakdancers, and a cast of thousands that segued from traditional performance-art to hip-hop thrum, turning the arena into one big mosh pit.
Which brought the athletes back out of their seats, thronging onto the stage, jumpin’ and jivin’.
Was it worth it? Are they ever, the Olympics? Bread not circuses, except we shouldn’t have to live by bread and water alone.
“They are a homage to the past and an act of faith in the future,” declared Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, as he prepared to bring down the curtain of the Games and a quick-step, two-hour closing production.
The Games are a spectacle of engorging on excess, the biggest show on Earth, come and gone in the flicker of an eye, really, but in the moment they do delight. Only the bah-humbuggers would deny that, the not-in-my-front-yard plebiscite brigades.
And these Games, while running over budget as they always do, came in at a budget cost of about $10 billion — about one-fifth the price tag for bloated Sochi four years ago. Or maybe $12 billion. Or perhaps $14 billion. Impossible to get a definitive answer to a simple question. Probably the bills are still coming in. (In Sochi, it was the belated three-card-Monte drug test results.)
In many ways, these were the knockdown Games too, with many of the venues built as temporary structures. Of a dozen Olympic facilities, excluding the stadium —used only for the opening and closing extravaganza — half were newly constructed and the remainder repaired. But three of them — the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, Gangneung Hockey Centre and Gangneung Oval — have as yet no post-Olympics purpose. White elephants: The legacy of so many over-ambitious Games, with cautionary tales from Nagano, Sydney, Athens and Turin.
Originally the Oval was to be transformed into a refrigerated warehouse for seafood, of all things. Until officials balked at frozen fish as part of their Olympic posterity.
The hockey centre — Korea a country where hockey tradition is about a millimetre deep — was slated to become home to the Daemyung Killer Whales club, until the team’s ownership discovered operating costs for five years would run to some $9 million (U.S.). Thanks but no thanks.
The scenic downhill course is expected to be bulldozed and restored to its natural state as previously undeveloped forest, a conversion what had infuriated environmentalists no end. Now they have to replant.
Even the Olympic stadium will keep only 5,000 of its 35,000 seats on three of seven floors, to be transformed into a concert hall or memorial park, details pending.
As for the economic impact of the Games, that too is speculative. Pyeongchang — which changed its name to PyeongChang after winning its host bid (on the third attempt), specifically to avoid confusion with the North Korean capital of Pyongyang — is tucked into a far-flung northeast corner of the country and unlikely to attract ski resort vacationers from beyond the region.
The diplomatic détente between North and South Korea, so ballyhooed when the Games launched with both countries marching in the Parade of Nations behind a united flag, has rather petered out. It was always more façade than geopolitically genuine.
At Ivanka Trump’s Friday night dinner with President Moon Jae-in in Seoul — before leading the U.S. delegation at the closing ceremony — President Donald Trump’s daughter-cum-advisor-cum-envoy said she had come to “reaffirm our bonds of friendship and partnership” with South Korea, but also “to reaffirm our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized,” according to a media pool report.
The same day, the Trump administration announced what he called the “largest ever” set of new sanctions against North Korea, aimed at forcing the Kim Jong Un regime to abandon its ever-escalating nuclear program.
Sunday night, however, there were reports from Moon’s office that, according to the North Korean delegation at the closing ceremony, Pyongyang is “willing to have talks” with Washington.
We’ve meandered a long way from that closing lollapalooza account.
Best part of the show, it says here, was the unchoreographed segment that saw the final competition medals awarded, for Sunday’s cross-country men’s 50K and women’s 30K mass-start classics. Fittingly, last gold of the Games was hung on the neck of Marit Bjorgen, her fifth medal in Pyeongchang, bring her career Olympic haul to 15 — most decorated Winter Olympian of all time.
That gold helped Norway leapfrog over Germany on the medal tote board, on the last day of competition. Fourteen gold each, but perennial Winter powerhouse Norway atop the medal apex with 39.
Bach performed the honours.
And finally the cauldron — which, sorry, looks like a garden sprinkler stood on its end — was doused.
“Now it is my obligation to declare the Winter Games here in Pyeongchang closed,” said the IOC prez. “I call on the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in Beijing, to celebrate with us all the 24th Olympic Winter Games.”
But see you all before then, in Tokyo 2020, inshallah.