South Korea

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North Korean athletes return gifts from South Korea trip, save Olympic items

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North Korea’s women’s hockey team was given gifts while competing at the Division II World Championships in South Korea last week.

All of the gifts were left in South Korea, including key chains and red ginseng, except for one notable exception — stuffed animals of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games mascots, according to South Korean media.

“The North Korean athletes probably took the Olympic mascot dolls because of their symbolism,” a South Korean official said, according to JoongAng Daily. “They probably felt scared to take the other gifts.”

The North Korean women won two out of five games at the tournament and were defeated by South Korea 3-0.

They did not qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics. North Korea is likely to qualify few if any athletes across all sports.

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

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MORE: North Korea confirms plan to participate at PyeongChang Olympics

Olympic, world champions miss South Korea Olympic short track team

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No South Koreans will face more pressure to earn medals at the PyeongChang Olympics than short track speed skaters. The team named after this past weekend’s Olympic Trials includes several new faces, leaving off Olympic and world champions.

The surprises came on the men’s side.

Double 2010 Olympic champion Lee Jung-Su, the top South Korean male skater this World Cup season, failed to make the Olympic team.

As did Sin Da-Woon, the 2013 World overall champion who won the 1500m at the 2017 World Championships.

Instead, the team will be led by Seo-Yi Ra, who clinched his spot last month by winning the world overall title. The rest of the team includes fellow Olympic rookies Lim Hyo-JunHwang Dae-Heon and Kim Do-Kyoum, which Yonhap News Agency called “no-names.” Kwak Yoon-Gy, a 2010 Olympian, rounds out the men’s roster of five.

The South Korean men shockingly went medal-less in Sochi, a result that simply cannot be repeated at South Korea’s first home Olympics. The 2018 Olympic men’s team includes zero holdovers from the most recent Olympics for the first time since short track’s debut at Albertville 1992.

South Korea has won 53 Winter Olympic medals. A total of 42 of them have come in short track. South Korea has won 21 Olympic short track gold medals. The next-highest country has won nine.

The South Korean women’s team for PyeongChang has more star power in Shim Suk-Hee and Choi-Min Jeong, who combined to win the world overall titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

They’ll be joined by Sochi Olympian Kim Alang and Olympic rookies Lee Yu-Bin and Kim Ye-Jin.

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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