(AP)- The overtly political 2018 Winter Olympics closed Sunday night very much as they began, with humanity’s finest athletes marching exuberantly across the world stage as three nations with decades of war and suspicion among them shared a VIP box — and a potential path away from conflict.

Even as dancers told cultural stories to music before a huge crowd, South Korea’s presidential office released a brief statement saying that Pyongyang had expressed willingness to hold talks with Washington.

The North has “ample intentions of holding talks with the United States,” according to the office. The North’s delegation also agreed that “South-North relations and U.S.-North Korean relations should be improved together,” Moon’s office, known as the Blue House, said.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, just before declaring the games closed, addressed the two Koreas’ cooperation at the closing ceremony, saying, “The Olympic games are an homage to the past and an act of faith for the future.”

Chen Jining, mayor of Beijing waves the Olympic flag as Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee watches during the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018.

“With your joint march you have shared your faith in a peaceful future with all of us,” Bach said.

“You have shown our sport brings people together in our very fragile world. You have shown how sport builds bridges.”

The announcement of a willingness to negotiate came after a meeting between North Korean Gen. Kim Yong-chol and Moon ahead of the Games’ closing ceremonies,
BBC News reports.

It was an extraordinary bookend to an extraordinary Olympics that featured athletic excellence, surprises and unexpected lurches forward toward a new detente on the Korean Peninsula.

Thrilled athletes marched into the arena around the world’s flags, relaxed after showing their athletic best to themselves and to the world.

“We have been through a lot so that we could blaze a trail,” said Kim Eun-jung, skip of the South Korean women’s curling team, which captured global renown as the “Garlic Girls” — all from a garlic-producing Korean hometown. They made a good run for gold before finishing with runner-up silver.

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