North Korea confirms plan to participate at PyeongChang Olympics

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A North Korean sports ministry official said North Korean athletes will be at the PyeongChang Olympics in February, the governor of PyeongChang’s province said Sunday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“When I asked him if North Korea will send athletes to PyeongChang, he said they will be here,” Gangwon Province Gov. Choi Moon-soon said, according to the report.

Sports officials from both North and South Korea have encouraged North Korean participation at the 2018 Olympics, notably in the last few months as the one-year-out date for the Winter Games passed.

North Korea boycotted the only other Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Games in Seoul in 1988.

Since, North Korean athletes have participated in major sporting events in South Korea, including the 2002 and 2014 Asian Games.

This week, North and South Korea women’s hockey teams are set to play in a lower-division world championship tournament in South Korea, which doubles as the Olympic hockey test event. That game is Thursday.

The following day, North and South Korea women’s soccer teams are scheduled for a match in Pyongyang.

North Korea’s women’s hockey team has been in South Korea for the world championship tournament for days and has been greeted warmly by South Koreans, according to Yonhap.

A group of spectators at North Korea’s first game on Sunday, a 2-1 loss to Australia, waved the Korean Unification Flag with the image of the entire Korean Peninsula.

From Yonhap:

Nearly 300 members of a civic group, the South Korean Committee for the Joint Implementation of the June 15 Summit Declaration, took up a section across from the North Korean bench at the arena, banging thundersticks and chanting messages like, “We Are One!” and “Go Korea!”

It’s not a certainty that North Korea will qualify any athletes for the PyeongChang Winter Games. Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since boycotting Seoul 1988, it didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010.

North Korea has zero top-performing international winter sports athletes and few who even appear at major competitions.

A North Korean pairs figure skating team finished 15th at the world championship last week. They’re now favorites to secure one of four remaining Olympic berths at a last-chance qualifying event in Germany in September.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

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Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

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