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Yuna Kim: ‘It will be difficult’ to skate in Olympic exhibition gala

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UNITED NATIONS — Figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim‘s earliest powerful memory of the Olympics was actually of the Summer Games.

“I first experienced the spirit of the Olympic Games and the power of sport when I was a 10-year-old watching the South and North Korean delegations walking into [Sydney 2000] Olympic Stadium together,” for the Opening Ceremony, she said Monday.

Kim, perhaps the most famous person in South Korea, spoke in English to the United Nations General Assembly in New York as a goodwill ambassador for the first Winter Games in South Korea.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the traditional Olympic Truce, which calls on all nations to cease hostilities during the time surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics in February and March.

Though Kim retired after following her 2010 Olympic gold with silver in 2014, she could be very visible during the PyeongChang Games.

She is considered the favorite to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9. That is if South Korean organizers go the traditional route of choosing an Olympic hero.

In 1988, at the only Summer Olympics in South Korea in Seoul, three South Koreans lit the cauldron simultaneously — a teacher, a high school student and a marathoner at those Games.

“No one knows who will be the last torch bearer and who will be lighting the cauldron,” Kim said later Monday in a press conference, speaking in Korean, “but if given the opportunity, of course it would be an honor.”

Kim could also make a well-publicized appearance on the final day of the Games at the figure skating exhibition gala.

Many ticket holders may hope that she does, given it is the second-highest-priced event of the Games behind the men’s hockey final.

She almost dismissed the notion Monday because, unlike many high-profile skaters in retirement, she has not been performing in ice shows that would keep her skating skills sharp.

“I have not been skating professionally, so as an athlete, it might be a little bit difficult to participate at the exhibition gala,” she said.

Two active skaters who could receive plenty of attention in PyeongChang are the North Korean pair of Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik.

They are the only North Korean athletes in any sport to qualify Olympic entry spots for their nation. But it’s unknown if those spots will be filled.

North Korea has not submitted an application to participate in the Games, said Do Jong-hwan, South Korea’s minister of culture, sport and tourism.

“We are very much waiting for them to come, and we are very much hopeful that they will participate at the Games,” he said.

A PyeongChang Olympic spokesperson said that 82 nations have delivered applications so far. That’s close to the number of nations expected to compete at the Winter Games.

In 2014, a Winter Olympics record 88 nations and one independent Olympic participant took part.

The last nations to qualify Olympic figure skating spots in September needed to confirm their plans to the International Skating Union to use those spots by Oct. 30.

The ISU has not responded to a Tuesday morning email asking if North Korea confirmed that it plans to use its pairs spot by the deadline.

“I’m also very curious and waiting with a little bit of uncertainty and hopeful that North Korean athletes will participate [in PyeongChang],” Kim said. “When I was an athlete, there was no opportunity to meet North Korean athletes.”

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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.

MORE: Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15

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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.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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