N. Korea wins first medal in eight years

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N. Korea wins first medal in eight years

North Korea recorded its first Asian Winter Games medal in eight years when its figure skaters took bronze in the pair skating event at the Winter Asiad in Kazakhstan.

Ri Ji-hyang and Tae Won-hyuk finished last in the event but were awarded a bronze because only three teams competed in the event, giving the North its first medal in two consecutive Winter Asiads.

The reclusive communist state, which finished the 2007 Asian Winter Games - in Changchun, China - without a medal, had failed to send any of its athletes to the medal podium in the first five days of this year’s games. The no-medal performance in 2007 was a shock to North Korea, which sent 66 athletes there.

In the 2003 Asian Winter Games in Aomori, Japan, the North’s squad of 51 athletes won one silver and one bronze. The country dispatched 32 athletes this year, competing in women’s ice hockey, speed skating, short-track speed skating and figure skating, among others.

In the women’s ice hockey event, North Korea started the tournament with a convincing 6-1 win over South Korea in the opening match but ended up with a 1-4 record to finish the tourney fourth overall. North Korean women also failed to impress in the speed skating event with none of their athletes finishing better than eighth overall.

“The North Korean figure skating team sent its Vancouver Winter Olympics coaching staff,” said a South Korean Skating Union official. “But there’s a huge gap between North Korean skaters and elite Asian skating programs and it’s becoming tougher for North Koreans to reach the medal podium.”

North Korea has been on the slide since taking one gold and eight medals overall at the first Asian Winter Games in 1986, in Sapporo, Japan.

Meanwhile, South Korea is currently second in the medal standings in Kazakhstan as of Saturday, with 12 gold and 35 medals overall.

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