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N. Korean ski coach: It’s an ‘honor’ to compete in Olympics

February 12, 2018

Kim Ryon Hyang of North Korea makes a turn during free skiing on the giant slalom course at the Yongpyong Alpine Center at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s Alpine skiing coach says it’s an “honor” to compete at the Pyeongchang Olympics, though he doesn’t expect much from any of his three athletes.

North Korea is sending 22 athletes, including the Alpine skiers, to Pyeongchang thanks to special entries given by the International Olympic Committee amid rare reconciliation mood between the rival Koreas. North Korea initially had no athletes entered after its Olympic committee missed a confirmation deadline for a pair of skaters who had qualified to compete in the games.

“It’s our honor to take part in the Olympics. We surely have to win competitions but I mean attending the Olympics has a significant meaning,” the North’s Alpine coach, Pyon Yong Do, said after a meeting of coaches on Sunday.

The other North Korean athletes participating in the games are three cross-country skiers, two short-track speed skaters, a pair of figure skaters and 12 female hockey players who helped form the Koreas’ first-ever joint Olympic team with South Korean players.

The joint Korean hockey team lost 8-0 to Switzerland in its historic debut match on Saturday night.

Pyon said he was happy to see the Korean hockey team competing with a “single-minded” unity, saying the two Koreas could also field a joint Alpine team in the future. “It was done in hockey, so why not with us?” he said.

North Korea is weak in winter sports, and none of its 22 athletes at Pyeongchang is expected to bring home a medal. Pyon said he doesn’t have big expectations from his skiers.

Kim Ryon Hyang was scheduled to start her competition Monday, but strong winds forced Alpine organizers to postpone the women’s giant slalom until Thursday. She will now begin Wednesday in slalom. The men, Kang Song Il and Choe Myong Gwang, are on next week.

The Olympics-inspired detente mood flared after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly expressed his willingness to send an Olympic delegation.

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Follow Hyung-jin Kim on Twitter at @hyungjin1972

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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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