Medals unlikely as 22 North Koreans head to Winter Olympics
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The 22 North Korean athletes now invited to compete at the Winter Olympics next month are unlikely to bring home any medals across the border from South Korea.
Of all the athletes given late entries in five sports, only the figure skating pair met the qualifying standard on merit.
North Korea’s wait for a first Winter Games medal since 1992 is expected to continue.
Still, the deal confirmed Saturday is a big win for the International Olympic Committee and officials north and south of the Korean border.
Here is a look at the athletes heading to the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympics:
WOMEN’S ICE HOCKEY
The most symbolic and emotive of the North Korean entries.
The 23 players on South Korea’s roster will now have 12 North Koreans added three weeks before their opening game against Switzerland.
South Korea never qualified for the tournament since women’s ice hockey joined the Winter Games program in 1998. It placed fourth at the 2017 Asian Winter Games.
As the host nation, it got an automatic entry despite being the No. 22-ranked nation in an 8-team lineup where No. 9 Japan is the next lowest-ranked.
North Korea is currently No. 25, and has been promised to have at least three players ready for action in a 22-player active roster for each game.
South Korea’s coach, Sarah Murray of Canada, will select the team, and be joined on her staff by one official from the North Korean Olympic body, the IOC said.
Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik won bronze in pairs at the 2017 Asian Winter Games held last February. It was North Korea’s only medal at the 64-event competition in Sapporo, Japan.
At their world championships debut weeks later, in Helsinki, Finland, they finished 15th ahead of pairs from traditionally strong skating nations.
They skated to music by The Beatles and Tchaikovsky but declined to talk about their choices with reporters.
Their Olympic qualification was confirmed in September by placing sixth at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.
However, the team did not enter the pair by the International Skating Union (ISU) deadline.
They have been trained by Montreal-based coach Bruno Marcotte who conveys instructions via a translator.
SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATING
The IOC has granted places to two North Korean skaters in short track races.
Jong Kwang Bom will enter the men’s 1,500 meters and Choe Un Song is in the 500.
Neither has a formal biography in the athletes section of the ISU website.
Two men and one woman from North Korea have been found places in giant slalom and slalom.
They should blend in easily. Olympic races through the technical gates typically have around 100 starters and many come from countries never seen on the top-tier World Cup circuit. Recall that pop violinist Vanessa-Mae skied for Thailand in giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The three North Koreans have little track record in racing, according to International Ski Federation (FIS) archives.
Choe Myong Gwang is listed as age 28 with only two results in the last seven seasons. He raced in super-G races in Iran last March on the third-tier FIS level. He placed 10th of 11 and last of 11.
Kang Song Il, aged 23, competed in junior races in Iran six years ago, the FIS archive says.
The female athlete, Kim Ryon-hyang, is 25 and also raced at Darbandsar, Iran, last March. She finished eighth of 10 starters and 10th of 11.
North Korea will have two racers in the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle, and one in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle. All raced in Apatity, Russia last April, according to FIS.
Han Chun Gyong placed 90th of 92 finishers, and Pak Il Chol was 92nd. Both are listed as members of the Photaesan club.
In a women’s race in Russia, 18-year-old Ri Yong-gum from the Jangjasan club was last of 83 finishers.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org