North Korea’s athletes arrive for Games

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North Korea’s athletes arrive for Games


North Korea’s athletic delegation, including figure skating partners Ryom Tae-ok, far left, and Kim Ju-sik, third from left, walk through an air bridge from a chartered airplane into Yangyang International Airport in Gangwon, Thursday evening. [YONHAP]

GANGNEUNG, Gangwon - North Korea’s Olympic delegation flew into South Korea Thursday on a chartered plane and checked in at the Gangneung Olympic Village Thursday night, with local media jostling to catch every image and comment.

Led by Won Gil-u, Pyongyang’s vice sports minister, the 32-member delegation entered the Gangneung village around 8 p.m. Thursday surrounded by a throng of reporters and spectators.

A heavy police guard was present in advance of the North Koreans’ arrival with a throng of cameramen standing near the village entrance to capture images of the visitors.

The delegation landed at Yangyang International Airport in Gangwon at around 6:20 p.m. on an Asiana Airlines’ chartered Airbus that took off from Kalma Airport, a North Korean military base in the eastern port city of Wonsan. The 32 were accompanied by 45 South Korean skiers and officials who had boarded the same plane a day before to fly over the border to train at the Masikryong Ski Resort in the North’s Kangwon Province.

The North Korean delegation was comprised of 10 athletes, three coaches and 18 support staff and is led by Won, who took part in talks last month with South Korean officials in the border village of Panmunjom to discuss the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Games.

The 10 athletes include a figure skating pair - Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik - who won bronze at the 2018 Four Continents Championships in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan. 26. That was the first medal won by North Korea at an event sanctioned by the International Skating Union. The other eight athletes include three alpine skiers, three cross-country skiers and two short-track skaters.

A dozen North Korean women ice hockey players came to the South last Friday with one coach and two assistants to practice with South Korean players at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong. They will be part of a joint Korean team. That brings the total of North Korean athletes competing at the PyeongChang Olympics to 22.

The 12 North Korean ice hockey players will check into the Gangneung village in the wee hours of Monday along with their South Korean teammates following a warm-up match with Sweden in Incheon on Sunday night. It remains to be seen if the 12 will share rooms with their South Korean teammates. If they do so, a flag of the Korean Peninsula will be hung outside the apartment units they are using.

To support the 47-member North Korean delegation, Rep. Suh Chung-won of the opposition Liberty Korea Party alleged the Korean government earmarked 140 million won ($130,200) from the inter-Korean cooperation fund to assist the visitors. The government refuted Suh’s claim on the earmark of the 140 million won, though it acknowledged it used the cooperation fund to form a government group comprised of officials from related government branches without specifying the figure.

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