South Korean weight lifters head North

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South Korean weight lifters head North

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The South Korean athletes departing for North Korea on Tuesday to compete in the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship. The event will be held in North Korea through Sept. 17. [NEWS1]

South Korean weight lifters began competing in a tournament in North Korea yesterday, a day after they traveled to Pyongyang to begin what some hope could be a turning point for inter-Korean sports exchanges.

The 41-member South Korean group, which includes 22 athletes, was invited to participate in the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship, being held in the North through next Tuesday.

According to the Seoul-based Korea Weightlifting Federation, the group departed Gimpo International Airport on Tuesday and arrived in Pyongyang via Beijing at 4 p.m., checking into Yanggakdo International Hotel.

Yesterday, they had three hours of afternoon training at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium. They were also scheduled to attend the opening ceremonies and a reception later in the day.

It is the first time in five years that the North has invited a group of South Korean athletes, ever since the South’s taekwondo athletes performed in an exhibition competition in the North in June 2008.

The Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship is held annually, but it has not been held in the North before this year.

About 15 Asian countries and 200 athletes are competing in the event, the KWF said. Other participants include China, Kazakhstan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Mongolia.

The junior event runs from today until Saturday, while the senior event will be held between Sunday and Tuesday. Four South Korean athletes - three men and a woman - will participate in the junior competition, and 18 others, including six women, will compete at the senior level.

For the first time, North Korea has agreed to fly the South’s flag if a South Korean athlete makes the podium, and to fly the flag and play the South’s national anthem if its athlete captures gold.

South Korea won five gold medals in men’s events and three golds in women’s events at the 2011 championships in Uzbekistan. It did not participate in last year’s event held in Mongolia.

With the two Koreas also agreeing yesterday to resume the Kaesong Industrial Complex from Monday, observers see signs of inter-Korean sports exchanges making a revival. The South invited the North to the East Asian Cup football competition in July, where the North won the women’s title.

This weight lifting championship, however, is not comprised of top national-team athletes, but largely lifters from the club level.

Most of South Korea’s 22 athletes were selected from seven leading weight lifting clubs in the South, including Yanggu County and Kwangju Bank.

Kim Jae-keun, an executive director of the Gangwon Weightlifting Federation, is participating as one of the international referees.

Jeon Chang-beom, who is leading the South Korean group, called it a “historic” event.

“I wish that through this event we would be able to become a bridge for sports exchanges between the South and the North,” Jeon told a media briefing at Gimpo.


BY MOON GWANG-LIP [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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