AP

South Korea Olympic officials relieved North Korea qualified

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean Olympic officials said they were pleased after a North Korean figure skating pair became the nation’s first athletes to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, hoping it might help improve strained relations between the countries.

Tension has been rising recently due to North Korea’s nuclear test and multiple missile launches that also triggered an escalating war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the Winter Games.

Sung Baikyou of PyeongChang’s organizing committee said Saturday the achievement by North Korean skaters could make it easier to persuade the North to participate.

“It widens the room for more talks regarding North Korea’s potential Olympic participation, including inviting its organized cheering groups,” which Pyongyang frequently sends to international events to support its athletes, Sung said.

It’s still uncertain whether North Korea would allow the skaters to compete in PyeongChang, a ski resort town 50 miles south of the heavily-armed inter-Korean border.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea’s capital Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months as it accelerated its nuclear and missile development.

The IOC is trying to calm concern about the PyeongChang Games, but France has said its Olympic team will not travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.

IOC President Thomas Bach has expressed hope North Korea will take part.

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Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

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