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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”