Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 11 News List

N Korean skaters qualify for Games

POTENTIAL PARTICIPATION:South Korea is hopeful that North Korea will join the Winter Olympics, sending its athletes and organized cheering groups 80km across the border

AP, SEOUL

North Korea’s Ryom Tae-ok, left, and Kim Ju-sik perform at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki on 29 March.

Photo: EPA

South Korean Olympic officials said they were pleased after a North Korean figure skating pair became the nation’s first athletes to qualify for next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, hoping it might help improve strained relations between the countries.

North Korea won its first berth to February’s Games after figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik finished sixth in the pairs event at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Germany on Friday.

Tension has been rising recently due to North Korea’s nuclear test and multiple missile launches that also triggered an escalating war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the Games.

Sung Baikyou of Pyeongchang’s organizing committee yesterday said the achievement by North Korean skaters could make it easier to persuade the North to participate.

“It widens the room for more talks regarding North Korea’s potential Olympic participation, including inviting its organized cheering groups,” which Pyongyang frequently sends to international events to support its athletes, Sung said.

It is still uncertain whether North Korea would allow the skaters to compete in Pyeongchang, a ski resort town just 80km south of the heavily armed inter-Korean border.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months as it accelerated its nuclear and missile development.

Ryom and Kim Ju-sik had been seen as the country’s best chance to qualify for Pyeongchang. Some North Korean short-track speed skaters may also have an outside shot at qualifying in the coming weeks, Sung said.

Pyeongchang’s organizers and the International Olympic Committee are also discussing granting special entries for North Korean athletes in some sports so that more of them could participate.

The committee is trying to calm concern about the Pyeongchang Games, but France has said its team will not travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.

Committee president Thomas Bach has expressed hope North Korea will take part.

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