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Sights and Sounds: The 2018 PyeongChang Opening Ceremony

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Let the games begin! The Opening Ceremony for the 23rd Winter Olympic Games — titled “Peace in Motion” — went down early Friday morning on the other side of the world in PyeongChang, South Korea.

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And it went off without a hitch. Don’t miss the Opening Ceremony’s primetime airing tonight at 8pm ET on NBC and streaming live on NBCOlympics.com.

WATCH: Top moments from 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony

PEACE IN MOTION

The gallantry leading up to the Parade of Nations followed the whimsical time-traveling adventure of five children surrounded by hundreds of performers and cultural iconography.

“The opening ceremony will weave together the narratives of five lovable protagonists from Gangwon province through cultural performances,” executive producer of the Opening Ceremony Yang Jung-woong said in January. “The stage will unfold like a winter fairytale depicting the children’s adventure.”

UNITY

As hosts, South Korea’s athletes entered the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium last. They were joined by representatives from North Korea as all compatriots punctuated the Parade of Nations by entering together under the Unification Flag, which was carried by an athlete from each country.

A moment was captured in which South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim Yo-jong was later granted the honor of officially announcing the start of the 2018 Olympic Games.

USA GARB

Athletes from the United States marched in the Parade of Nations with a red, white and blue fit by Ralph Lauren sporting classic sweaters and large parkas to go along with tassled nubuck gloves.

TA’OVALA-ING TAUFATOFUA

For the second Olympic Opening Ceremony in a row, Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua stole the show.

Tonga’s lone representative created quite a stir at the 2016 Rio Games when he carried the Tongan flag bare-chested and glistening in his traditional ta’ovala.

“I want to still be alive for my race. It’s going to be freezing, so I will be keeping nice and warm,” he said prior to the games.

WATCH: The Shirtless Tongan is back!

But Taufatofua couldn’t resist, entering the arena — again bare-chested and glistening in his traditional ta’ovala — to wild cheers.

Taufatofua remarkably qualified for the Olympics as a cross country skier when he picked up the sport after returning from Rio determined to become Tonga’s first athlete to compete in both the summer and winter Olympics.

THE ARENA

The 35,000-seat PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, which cost upwards of $75 million to construct, was finished late in 2017 and will be used for just four events. The plan is to remove the temporary installation and keep the surrounding facilities as an homage to the 2018 Games.

The arena will host the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 25 and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Paralympics soon after.

THE RINGS

The lighting of the Olympic rings was an impressive show. Glowing snowboarders charged down a darkened competition slope before forming into rings, only revealed as the camera shifted overhead. Simultaneously, new rings seemed to materialize and hover over the mountain for a stirring shot.

WATCH: Opening Ceremony: Drumline

LIGHTING THE CAULDRON

After its 1,254-mile journey across the country, carried by 7,500 runners to represent the 75 million people residing on the Korean peninsula, representatives from North and South Korea climbed a daunting set of lit-up stairs deliver the Olympic flame to its final destination.

As many guessed, it was Korean figure skating gold medalist and superstar Kim Yu-na who received the honor of lighting the cauldron — doing so in skates, no less. Once she lit the base of the cauldron, a ladder of fire periscoped upward to reach the top of a massive white tower visible atop one of the corners of the pentagonal stadium.

WATCH: Opening Ceremony: Auraji Raft

GRAND FINALE

Over 20,000 fireworks were set off during the Opening Ceremony, which concluded with arresting visuals of lasers and fire.

WATCH: Opening Ceremony: Dancers

Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

AP
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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
NBC Sports Gold
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the most total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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