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XXIII Winter Olympics Open In S. Korea, 3 Countries Represent Caspian Region

By Vusala Abbasova February 9, 2018

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Three out of the five Caspian countries, namely Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan, will be officially represented, while Russian athletes will compete under a neutral flag. / Phil Noble / Reuters

Every four years winter sport enthusiasts wait in anticipation for the opening ceremony that officially signals the start of the winter Olympics. Today in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games kicked off with all the pomp and ceremony expected of an event that will be watched around the world, as nearly 3,000 athletes from over 90 countries compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in 15 ice or snow-based sports.

Three out of the five Caspian countries, namely Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan, will be officially represented, while Russian athletes will compete under a neutral flag. Turkmenistan is the only Caspian state to not send any of its athletes to Pyeongchang.

Azerbaijan is being represented by one male athlete, the Austrian-born Patrick Brachner, in Alpine Skiing. Brachner represented Azerbaijan at the 2014 winter games held in Sochi, Russia.

The Iranian flag was carried into the Olympic stadium above a team of four, who will compete in Cross-Country Skiing.

Kazakhstan is being represented by 46 athletes, 20 female and 26 male, in Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross-Country Skiing, Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Luge, Ski Jumping and both Short- and Long-Track Speed Skating.

Despite the International Olympic Committee’s decision to bar Russia’s national Olympic team from competing due to a doping scandal investigation that rocked the sports world following the winter games held in Sochi four years ago, as many as 169 Russian athletes found not guilty are competing. They received a special dispensation that allowed them to march into Olympic Stadium today under the iconic white flag emblazoned with the five rings that have come to represent the Olympics since 1912.

While the games officially opened today, contests in some sports had begun on Wednesday, with athletes competing in Biathlon, Luge and Ski Jumping; and on Thursday, which opened up contests for Alpine Skiers and Curlers. The games run through February 25.

This year’s games includes a record number of athletes, including those from several countries new to the winter Olympics. The Nigerian women's Olympic bobsled team is the first team from an African country to ever qualify for the bobsled competition at the winter Olympics.

Public interest in this year’s Olympics is rather unique, given the geopolitical tensions with South Korea’s neighbor to the north. Last month North Korea announced that it would send athletes to Pyeongchang to compete. The two Koreas agreed to form a joint female ice hockey team, and march under a shared flag, depicting a unified Korea, during the opening ceremony.