This Could Be the Most Important Selfie From the Olympics

August 7th 2016

Aron Macarow

A lot of attention at the start of the Rio Olympic Games has focused on controversy: political protests, concerns over poor air quality, the Russian team's ongoing doping scandal. But sometimes the games really live up to their lofty goal of creating a space for countries to set aside their differences in the spirit of athletic competition.

One of the first such moments during this year's games? This selfie taken by two gymnasts from North Korea and South Korea:

The photo depicts South Korean gymnast Lee Eun Ju and North Korean gymnast Hong Un Jong, who are both competing as individual qualifiers in the 2016 Olympics because their teams didn't make the final cut. Both women smile together; one flashes a peace sign.

North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war and came to blows last year, exchanging fire across their shared border. So the fellowship Lee and Hong displayed in Rio is particularly heartwarming.

And their camaraderie is not unique — at least according to Korea Daily:

"Team North Korea at Olympic Games Rio 2016 isn't the usual segregated, antisocial group. Compared to them at past international games, North Korean athletes look more comfortable and relaxed.

"The most noticeable change about team North Korea was the athletes' relationship with South Korean competitors. In the past, North Korean athletes avoided conversation not only with the athletes, but also with the reporters from South Korea. However, this summer, they greeted South Korean athletes with more hospitality."

Elle contributor Dvora Meyers confirmed the relationship that the North Korean Olympic team had with other countries during past games, writing:

"I noticed the self-segregation of the North Korean athletes at the 2014 World Gymnastics Championships in Nanning, China. During these global gymnastics competitions, the gymnasts do relish the opportunity to meet each other, and social media platforms fill up with group photos of gymnasts from different countries. During my time in Nanning, when I saw the North Koreans outside of the competition arena, I never saw them interacting with members of other delegations."

This is what the Olympics is about.

Modern sports commentators sometimes lament the politicization of the Olympics, and politics has always been a part of the Games. But 19th-century French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin proposed reviving the ancient Greek Olympics in the modern era as a way to promote world peace using athletic competition.

That message is still a strong part of the Olympic movement, even today. From the International Olympic Committee:

"The Olympic movement unites all people and builds bridges between all cultures. In Olympic sport, all people are equal, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or faith. Sport can promote peace, and to celebrate this, we are releasing uniquely crafted doves with messages of peace. Find the dove that speaks the most to you and share it. Together let's spread peace. Together we can change the world."