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North, South Korea sports diplomacy over the years

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Sports ties between North and South Korea often mirror their rocky political ties.

A low point was when North Korean medalists ignored South Korean rivals who tried to shake their hands at podiums ahead of the North’s boycott of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

During good times, and especially during the so-called Sunshine Era of the late ’90s and 2000s, when the South tried to engage the North with huge aid shipments, the Koreas sent unified teams to international competitions and allowed their athletes to parade together at Olympic ceremonies.

With seven months until the Pyeongchang Olympics, South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in wants North Korea to attend the Winter Games as a way to encourage reconciliation on the divided Korean Peninsula. Success will depend largely on whether the Koreas can avoid the violence and animosity that has ruined sports cooperation throughout their history.

Some key moments in Korean sports:

1945: The Korean Peninsula is divided into a U.S.-backed South Korea and a Soviet- and Chinese-supported North Korea at the end of the World War II. The two Koreas fight a devastating war from 1950-53.

1986: Seoul, the South Korean capital, hosts the Asian Games. North Korea boycotts.

1988: Seoul hosts the Summer Olympics, and North Korea again boycotts. A year earlier, a South Korean passenger plane exploded, killing all 115 people aboard, and a captured North Korean agent told South Korean investigators that she bombed the jetliner at the order of North Korean leaders who wanted to disrupt the Seoul Games.

April 1991: The Koreas send their first-ever unified male and female teams to the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan. The women’s team wins the championship by defeating the powerful Chinese.

June 1991: The Koreas send a youth soccer team to the FIFA championship in Portugal that reaches the quarterfinals.

2000: Athletes of the Koreas march together under a “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics. It’s the Koreas’ first such parade since their 1945 division.

May-June 2002: South Korea co-hosts the World Cup with Japan and makes a storybook run to the semifinals. When the tournament is nearing its end, the navies of the two Koreas fight a naval skirmish that left six South Korean sailors dead near their disputed sea boundary. Many outside analysts viewed it not only as North Korean revenge over an earlier sea battle, but also as an effort to distract attention from the South’s soccer success.

September-October 2002: North Korea attends the Asian Games in Busan, South Korea. The countries’ athletes conduct a joint march at the opening and closing ceremonies. North Korea sends a cheering group of young women. Dubbed the “squad of beauties” in South Korean media, they often draw more attention than their athletes.

2003: North Korea participates in the University Games in Daegu, South Korea, and its athletes walk again with South Korean counterparts at the opening and closing ceremonies.

2004: Athletes of the two Koreas march jointly at the Athens Olympics.

2005: North Korea attends the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon, South Korea. Included in the cheering squad was Ri Sol Ju, who is now the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

2006: The two Koreas again march together at the Turin Winter Olympics.

2007: Athletes of the two Koreas march together at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, but have not done so since.

2014: North Korea attends the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. At the close of the event, three top North Korean officials make a surprise visit and hold the first highest-level face-to-face talks with South Korea in five years.

April 2017: North Korea’s women’s ice hockey team comes to the South to participate in the group rounds of the world championships, while the South’s national women’s soccer team travels to the North for an Asian Cup qualifying match.

June 2017: North Korea’s taekwondo demonstration team visits South Korea for its first performance in the rival country in 10 years.

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MORE: South Koreans identify favorite PyeongChang Olympic athletes, sports

Two-time Olympian becomes first woman to lead U.S. national swim team

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Two-time Olympian Lindsay Mintenko has been picked to lead the U.S. national swimming team. She is the first woman to hold the title.

USA Swimming made the announcement Wednesday.

Mintenko replaces Frank Busch, who retired Oct. 1 as managing director. She has been a member of the national team staff since 2006.

During her swimming career, Mintenko won gold medals as a U.S. team captain at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics 800m freestyle relay and added a silver in 2004 on the 400m freestyle relay.

USA Swimming also announced an organizational restructuring that will place all technical divisions, including the national team, under the oversight of chief operating officer Mike Unger.

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Grand Prix figure skating: 10 female skaters to watch

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Ten women to watch this fall as the Grand Prix figure skating season starts this week …

Yevgenia Medvedeva
Russia
Two-time world champion
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

Undefeated in nearly two years and arguably on the most dominant run since Katarina Witt in the 1980s. Medvedeva rarely misses jumps and has feather-light elegance on the ice. Off of it, she enjoys Japanese anime and K-pop. She quickly surpassed older skaters after turning senior in 2015, but now younger teens are giving chase.

Kaetlyn Osmond
Canada
2017 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, France

Osmond won a Grand Prix at age 16 in 2012, but injuries dogged her the next few years. Most of all, a broken leg suffered in September 2014. She came back and was the breakout woman last season, making her first Grand Prix Final and then grabbing second at worlds behind Medvedeva.

Gabrielle Daleman
Canada
2017 World bronze medalist
Grand Prix Starts: China, U.S.

Like Osmond, would not have been picked for a world medal at the start of last season. Daleman was 17th at the Sochi Olympics, with a foot injury and one month after turning 16. She was 13th, 21st and ninth in three worlds appearances before last year. She was fourth at each of her Grand Prix starts in 2016, failing to make the six-skater Grand Prix Final, but picked up her first top-level senior international medals at Four Continents in February and worlds in March.

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Satoko Miyahara
Japan
2015 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Japan, U.S.

Miyahara’s hip injury last winter could not have come at a worse time for the Japanese federation. She missed worlds, and Japan ended up qualifying two rather than three spots for PyeongChang. Before that, Miyahara took second behind Medvedeva at the Grand Prix Final and was ranked No. 2 in the world. Now the Japanese Olympic picture is crowded with fellow teens Marin HondaMai Mihara and Wakaba Higuchi.

Karen Chen
U.S.
Fourth at 2017 Worlds
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, U.S.

Went from eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships to winning the 2017 U.S. title and placing fourth at worlds. Chen’s clutch effort ensured the U.S. earned three women’s spots at the Olympics. The 18-year-old from the Bay Area has largely struggled in other international competitions. A best of fifth in four Grand Prix starts. Twelfth at a pair of Four Continents Championships. Already this season at two international events, she finished behind Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at nationals.

Ashley Wagner
U.S.
2016 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, U.S.

Wagner just missed the 2010 Olympic team, then made Sochi despite placing fourth at nationals. She has undoubtedly been the most consistent U.S. woman in this Olympic cycle. The 26-year-old ended a decade-long U.S. medal drought with the skate of her life at worlds in 2016. Her follow-up last season was not so memorable — her least successful campaign in six years. Still a favorite to become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

Alina Zagitova
Russia
2017 World junior champion
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Medvedeva’s training partner, in her first senior season, might be the skater with the best chance of dethroning her. Zagitova, born three months after the 2002 Olympics, has the highest free skate score in the world this season (.45 better than Medvedeva). Their duel(s) in December at Russian Nationals and possibly the Grand Prix Final should be appointment viewing.

Marin Honda
Japan
2016 World junior champion
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, China

Honda is the other first-year senior turning heads. She beat a field at the U.S. Classic last month that included three of the top four from last season’s U.S. Championships. Figure skating is the Winter Olympics’ marquee sport. The women’s event is its headliner. And nowhere is skating more popular than Japan. With Mao Asada‘s retirement, the spotlight will be on Honda, who already has 236,000 Instagram followers.

Carolina Kostner
Italy
2014 Olympic bronze medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

The second-oldest Olympic women’s singles medalist since 1928 is the only one from the top six in Sochi who is competing this Grand Prix season. Kostner, now 30, took a break after the 2014 season, then served a backdated 21-month suspension for helping ex-boyfriend and Olympic race-walking champion Alex Schwazer evade drug testers in 2012. She finally returned in December and was sixth at worlds.

Mirai Nagasu
U.S.
Fourth at 2010 Olympics
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

Nagasu, left off the Olympic team in favor of Wagner in 2014, is arguably the best U.S. skater at the moment after topping Chen at both of her early season outings. She added the triple Axel this season, which could prime her to win her second national title, a full decade after her first at age 14. It could be an incredible comeback story, returning to the Olympics after finishing fourth in Vancouver in 2010.

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