Those who have planned weddings often bemoan the difficulties of putting together a seating chart, and they're only working with their friends and family. The host city of an Olympic Games has a much bigger task in deciding who gets to sit in the Olympic VIP box at the closing and opening ceremonies. After all, these are two of the most important moments of each games — and they've got a lot of very important people to manage.
Mainstays that you can expect at every such ceremony are the host country's leader and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) head, which in this case were President Moon Jae In of South Korea and IOC President Thomas Bach. The rest of the coveted seats go to their guests and then numerous foreign dignitaries and other VIPs, though the specific list and the specific countries honored changes with every ceremony.
The closing ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Games offered a bit more potential drama than usual in the VIP box. Presidential daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump headed up the U.S. delegation to South Korea for the closing of the games, so she got a spot. Not far from her, though, were two gentlemen who wouldn't normally be expected to share such a small space: Gen. Kim Yong Chol of North Korea, and American Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea.
Trump was in a sensitive position, given the tension between the U.S. and North Korea which manifested itself at the Opening Ceremony when Vice President Mike Pence did not stand up to cheer for the unified Korean team's entrance. Trump, however, did stand up and clap when the North and South Korean athletes walked in together. Reports have also said that North Korea is now open to talking to the U.S. following a discussion that President Moon had with the North Korean delegation, so perhaps this is the first visual sign of a thaw between the two countries. Much like Pence was seated only feet from Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong, Trump was only feet away from Gen. Kim Yong Chol.
Even if Trump made the gesture of standing up to welcome the combined Korean team, it did not appear as though she and Gen. Kim interacted in the VIP box. Trump appeared to be mostly on her own, accompanied by Gen. Brooks but without the rest of the American presidential delegation that came with her. In addition to Trump and Gen. Brooks, that group included White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Marc E. Knapper of the U.S. embassy in South Korea, and Sergeant Shauna Rohbock, a bobsled coach who also won a silver medal in the sport in the 2006 Torino Games.
Reuters reports that another VIP at the Opening Ceremonies was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which also contributed to potential tensions in the VIP box because Japan has a tense relationship with both Koreas. However, the opening ceremonies happened without any serious interpersonal conflict in the VIP box, and Abe does not appear to have attended the closing ceremonies.
For her part, Ivanka Trump played her role in a poised manner beginning from when her position was announced.
"I am honored to lead the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics," she said before heading to South Korea. "We look forward to congratulating Team USA and celebrating all that our athletes have achieved. Their talent, drive, grit and spirit embodies American excellence, and inspire us all."
Then, at the closing ceremonies, she successfully navigated a potentially tense situation, what with the North Korean general seated just diagonally behind her. While the rest of the closing ceremonies are meant to be a spectacle, the guests in the VIP box likely don't want to be remembered the same way.