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.
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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