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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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Erin Hamlin to run New York City Marathon

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Erin Hamlin, the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist and Team USA flag bearer at the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony, will run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4.

Hamlin, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who retired after her fourth Olympics in PyeongChang at age 31, is running to fundraise for the Women’s Sports Foundation. So is Marlen Esparza, who in 2012 became the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing medalist (flyweight bronze).

Hamlin has no marathon experience, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Being challenged in sport is something I am very familiar with,” Hamlin said in a mass email Wednesday, according to TeamUSA.org. “Long distance running is something I most certainly am not!! It will be difficult, mentally and physically daunting, but a way to test my abilities in a sport so far out of my comfort zone.”

Many Olympians in non-running sports have raced the New York City Marathon.

Bill Demong, the 2010 U.S. Olympic Closing Ceremony flag bearer and only U.S. Olympic Nordic combined champion, ran the 2014 NYC Marathon in 2:33:05, crushing eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno‘s 3:25:14 from 2011.

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Softball set to return to Olympics as first event on Tokyo 2020 schedule

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Softball, returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, is scheduled to kick off the 2020 Tokyo Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The preliminary master schedule for the Tokyo Olympics was published Wednesday, with the first softball game scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremony.

The first game is scheduled to be held in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster

Traditionally, soccer has been the first sport to have action at a Summer Olympics, one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. While soccer is again scheduled to have matches that same Wednesday, they start later than 10 a.m.

The Tokyo 2020 schedule is subject to change and certainly not a final version — swimming, diving and synchronized swimming schedules are still to be determined, but those sports do not typically start before the Opening Ceremony.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal 10 years ago.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program in Paris in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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