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Winter Olympics: Pyeongchang cold, Team GB, Russia and a united Korea

The 23rd Winter Olympics begin in Pyeongchang on Friday and are set to be the coldest in history.

The build-up has seen relations thaw between North and South Korea, with the countries fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team, while there has been controversy over the 169 Russian athletes set to compete as neutrals.

Team GB sent a record 59 athletes to South Korea – three more than at Sochi 2014 – and are aiming for their most successful Winter Games, with a medal target of five or more.

However, on the eve of the Games, one of the medal prospects, snowboarder Katie Ormerod, was ruled out after suffering a broken heel and wrist after crashing twice in slopestyle practice.

Over 17 days, more than 3,000 of the world’s best athletes will compete in 102 medal events in 15 sports.

Around 77% of tickets have been sold – approximately 826,000 – across the 13 venues in South Korea.

Heat pads, blankets, a warm seat cushion and raincoats are on offer for spectators as they prepare to watch extreme sport in extreme weather in Pyeongchang, where temperatures dip below zero for a third of the year.

The Games are held around two main venues – Alpensia, the mountain resort, and Gangneung on the coast, with stand-alone venues in Bokwang and Jeongseon.

While residents of Gangneung are treated to relatively warm temperatures – ranging between -6C and -2C – the wind chill in the mountainous regions means it can feel as cold as -25C.

That would see the Games surpass the 1994 edition in Lillehammer, Norway, where temperatures dipped to -11C.

The 35,000-seater purpose-built Olympic Stadium, situated north east of Alpensia, has been built without a roof and temperatures for Friday’s opening ceremony – which starts at 20:00 local time (11:00 GMT) – are forecast to drop to -5C.

It will certainly differ from Sochi four years ago, when temperatures as high as 20C saw the Games go down as the warmest on record.

But there is good news for those attending Friday’s curtain-raiser, with temperatures expected to be “not problematic to having the opening ceremony”, according to Korean Meteorological Administration deputy director Choi Heung-jin.

The cold has not been the only problem in the build-up, as 86 cases of norovirus have been confirmed among security staff, leading to soldiers having to replace them as guards.

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