Will North Korea compete at PyeongChang Olympics?

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More than 80 nations are expected to send delegations to the PyeongChang Olympics, but it’s not known if North Korea will be one of them.

North Korean participation in sporting events held in South Korea has long been problematic given the relations between the two nations, including a North Korean boycott of the Seoul 1988 Summer Olympics.

North Korea did compete in the two Asian Games hosted by South Korea in the last 30 years, in 2002 and 2014.

The International Olympic Committee was asked last week if it had any indication that North Korea hoped to qualify and send athletes to PyeongChang in one year.

“Invitations don’t get sent until Feb. 9, which is one year to go, so difficult to know which NOCs [National Olympic Committees] will respond affirmatively, and, of course, the athletes/teams still need to qualify,” an IOC spokesperson responded via email.

North Korea’s Olympic Committee did not respond to an email seeking comment on PyeongChang 2018 participation.

It’s not a certainty that North Korea will qualify any athletes for the Winter Games. Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since Seoul, 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.

North Korean short track speed skater Choe Un Song ranks No. 136 in the world after appearing in one World Cup this season in Beijing. A pairs figure skating team is ranked No. 49. A different North Korean pairs team missed a Sochi berth by 1.5 points at the last qualifying competition.

Nations without qualified athletes are still able to enter one man and one woman in the Summer Olympics in swimming and track and field. But no such exception applies in the Winter Games.

Entry standards were tightened after British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards made folly reels finishing last at Calgary 1988, though lower-ranked athletes can still qualify in events such as slalom in Alpine skiing.

The IOC called the possibility of specially inviting an athlete from a non-qualified nation to the Winter Olympics “a hypothetical question about a possible set of circumstances.” A spokesperson said they didn’t know if there has been a precedent.

And then there is the question of whether North Korea wants to participate in PyeongChang, regardless of if it qualifies any athletes.

“It depends on where the relationship [between the nations] is going to be in the days immediately preceding the Olympics,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a Korean Peninsula scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California. “At the moment relations aren’t great, but you wouldn’t be able to tell this far out.”

That’s because South Korea’s president is suspended from power due to ongoing impeachment proceedings. Lewis says a new leader could very well emerge in the next several months that impacts that relationship.

North and South Korea have shown solidarity at recent Olympics. The nations marched together under one flag at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sydney and Athens. In Rio, North and South Korean gymnasts posed for a selfie together.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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Russia trounces U.S. boys’ hockey team to wrap up Youth Olympic Games

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Russia routed the U.S. 4-0 in the boys’ hockey gold medal game Wednesday, the final day of the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The U.S. had more penalties (three) than shots (two) in the first period. Russia’s Matvei Michkov converted the first power play and added an even-strength goal later in the period. Another power-play goal in the second period ran the score to 3-0.

Michkov just turned 15 and is projected as a top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

The gold medal was Russia’s ninth of the Games, excluding events that featured mixed-nationality teams, and 27th overall medal. Both numbers were the best of the competition.

Switzerland finished second in the medal tally with nine golds and 22 total. Japan, the surprise winner in girls’ hockey, matched Switzerland with nine golds among its 17 medals.

The U.S. had two gold medals and 11 total. Kiernan Fagan took gold in the boys’ ski slopestyle and silver in ski big air. Dusty Henricksen won the boys’ snowboard slopestyle.

Fagan, who turned 18 during the Games, already has a couple of World Cup podiums and finished 12th in slopestyle in last year’s world championships. He also took silver in big air and slopestyle in last year’s world junior championships.

Henricksen, who’ll turn 17 next month, placed 17th in the World Cup big air event last month in Atlanta.

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