5 to Watch: Opening Ceremony Begins, First Medals Awarded

Here are five things to watch as the Opening Ceremonies take over the Winter Olympics. Katie Kim reports.

(Published Friday, Feb. 9, 2018)

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The Winter Games are underway and U.S. athletes are already in the global spotlight, many of them with Chicago-area ties.

Road to PyeongChang: Olympians From the Midwest
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Evans is gunning for her second straight Olympic appearance in the event after winning a bronze medal in Sochi. Getty Images

The Opening Ceremony will make its primetime debut Friday at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, and with figure skaters, curlers, snowboarders and more taking to the rink and slopes, the excitement has only just begun.

Here are five things to watch Friday afternoon and Saturday morning (CT) from Pyeongchang:

Fireworks explode during the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium on Feb. 9, 2018, in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Jamie Squire/Getty

1. Opening Ceremony Expresses Hopes for Peace

Competition has already begun in curling, luge and a few other sports in Pyeongchang, but the 2018 Winter Games got off to their spectacular start with the opening ceremony, which will be televised on NBC at 8 p.m. ET. Expect the showiness, glitter and splendor of past Olympic productions wrapped around a theme of peace.

The ceremony reveals the pain of the divided Koreas but also their people’s hope for peace, according to organizers. The director of the opening ceremony, Yang Jung-woong, describes it as a winter fairy tale seen as a dream in which children find peace through adventure.

"Peace is the most important message, as we are the only divided country in the world," said Song Seung-whan, the general director of the opening and closing ceremonies, according to Nikkei Asian Review. "We want to let the world know about the pain of division and our desire for peace."

For the Koreas, unity was the motif. Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, an increasingly influential figure, is the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the South and she sat in the VIP section. She shook hands with the South Korean president Moon Jae-in while they watched the elaborate show.

But it was a different story for U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended with his wife, Karen. He did not interact with Kim Yo Jong, nor did he stand when the unified Korean team entered the stadium to cheers. And accompanying Pence in South Korea is Fred Warmer, the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died after he was imprisoned in North Korea and returned home in a coma.

Early in the ceremony, a puppet tiger danced with children through mountains. During the Parade of Nations, countries entered the stadium to K-Pop music — the United States entering to Psy’s "Gangnam Style." Tonga’s flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua, once again appeared shirtless and oiled up, as he had in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. Later, a group of Korean musicians sang a cover version of John Lennon’s “Imagine."

How to watch: Watch live on NBC at 7 p.m. CT, or on digital platforms here.

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USA's flagbearer Erin Hamlin leads her delegation as they parade during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Pyeongchang Stadium on Feb. 9, 2018. Franck Fife/AFP/Getty

2. Opening Ceremony Stars: South Korea’s Yuna Kim, U.S.’s Erin Hamlin

The highlight of the ceremony remained a secret until the end: the final torch bearer to the light of Olympic cauldron was revealed to be Yuna Kim, a retired figure skater and South Korean superstar. Kim became the first South Korean to win a gold medal in figure skating at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Four years later in Sochi, hoping to become only the third woman to defend her gold medal, she placed second behind Russian Adelina Sotnikova.

Kim retired from competition and became a goodwill ambassador to promote the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Luger Erin Hamlin led the U.S. contingent. The 31-year-old from New York, competing in her fourth and likely last Olympics, was named the team’s flag bearer on Wednesday. She won a bronze medal in singles luge in Sochi, the first American to ever medal in the event.

Her moment also came with controversy. She won the honor over speedster Shani Davis - he claimed by a coin toss. “@TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018,” Davis tweeted.

Davis was not scheduled to attend the ceremony.

How to watch: Watch live on NBC at 7 p.m. CT, or on digital platforms here.

Must-see: Shirtless flagbearer and more Opening Ceremony top moments

In this Sep.21, 2017 photo, South Korean athletes pose with the silver, gold and bronze medals, from left, for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics during an unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea. Lee Jin-man/AP

3. And the Gold Goes to…

Who won Pyeongchang’s first gold medals? Medals were awarded in five events on Saturday in South Korea, including events in biathlon, cross country, speed skating, short-track speed skating and ski jump.

But don’t be disappointed that the Star Spangled Banner wasn’t playing in Pyeongchang on Saturday. Americans weren't the favorite in any of these events.

Click the links below for full results:

Women’s biathlon, women’s 7.5 kilometer sprint at 6:15 a.m Saturday

How to watch: Watch coverage on NBC beginning at 1 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC or at 6:15 a.m. live on digital platforms here.

Women’s cross-country skiing, 7.5 kilometer plus 7.5 kilometer skiathlon

How to watch: Watch live at NBCSN at 2:15 a.m. ET Saturday or on digital platforms here.

Women’s speed skating, 3,000 meters at 6 a.m.

How to watch: Watch on digital platforms here.

Men’s short-track speed skating, 1,500 meters

How to watch: Watch live on NBCSN at 5 a.m. ET Saturday or on digital platforms here.

Men’s ski jumping, normal hill

How to watch: Watch live at NBCSN at 7:35 a.m. ET Saturday or on digital platforms here.

Ski jumping city mod Getty Images

4. Local Athletes Fall Short of Medaling

Numerous Chicago-area and Midwest athletes were among those vying for some of the first medals of the Winter Olympics.

A trio of Chicago-area natives from the prestigious Norge Ski Club jumped in their first-ever Olympic medal event Saturday and though none walked away with the coveted gold, silver or bronze, they still made a strong mark representing the U.S. for the first time.

After the first of two rounds of the men's normal hill final event, Wauconda's Kevin Bickner had jumped up 10 spots to No. 14, making him the highest placed of the four members of Team USA.

He finished tied for 24th, the only American competing in the final round of competition.

Cary's Michael Glasder, who finished in 40th place in the qualifying round, finished the first two rounds in 32nd place, with Olympic debutant Casey Larson — the 100,000th male Olympian in history when the Barrington native made his qualifying jump on Thursday — in 39th place. U.S. teammate William Rhoads was in fourth place among the Americans.

In cross country skiing, Jessie Diggins finished in fifth place for the women's 15km skiathlon, completing the race in 40 minutes, 59.6 seconds. The U.S. will have to wait another day to end their 42-year long Olympic medal drought in cross-country skiing.

How to watch: Watch cross country skiing live on NBCSN or on digital platforms at 1:15 a.m. CT Saturday here. Watch the ski jumping final live on NBCSN or on digital platforms at 6:35 a.m. CT Saturday here.

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5. Midwest Athletes Make 2018 Olympic Debut

While they may not be in medal contention just yet, several athletes kicked off competition in their sports.

Lana Gehring, of suburban Glenview, competed in her first event, just missing out on qualifying for the women's 500-meter. Michigan's Kyle Mack also missed qualifying for the men's slopestyle snowboarding final event.

How to watch: Watch short track speedskating live on digital platforms beginning at 1 a.m. CT Saturday here or on NBC between 2 and 5 p.m. CT. Watch snowboarding live on digital platforms at 7 p.m. Friday CT here on NBCSN Saturday morning at 8:15 a.m. CT.

Must See: A day-by-day schedule of when you can watch local athletes compete in the 2018 Winter Games