South, North Korea agree to form joint Olympic team, march together

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea and North Korea agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and march together in the Opening Ceremony for the first time since 2006.

The agreements still require approval from the International Olympic Committee.

But they are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics.

During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements including fielding a joint women’s hockey team and marching together under a blue and white “unification flag” depicting their peninsula in the Opening Ceremony, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

A joint statement distributed by the ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border before the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Games.

It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, journalists, athletes and officials.

Ahead of the Olympics, the Koreas will hold a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and have non-Olympic skiers train together at the North’s Masik ski resort, according to the statement.

It said the North also plans to send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics in March. The North earlier said it would send a 140-member art troupe.

The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional.

But it’s still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to PyeongChang because none are currently qualified.

South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation.

The IOC said recently it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the Games.

IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the PyeongChang organizing committee in Switzerland on Saturday.

The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has “taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources.”

“There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne,” it said.

The two Koreas sent joint teams to major international sports events twice previously, both in 1991.

One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, where the women’s team won the championship by beating the powerful Chinese, and the other was soccer’s World Youth Championship in Portugal, where the Korean team reached the quarterfinals.

During an era of detente in the 2000s, their athletes marched together in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of nine international sporting events including the 2000, 2004 and 2006 Olympics, but they failed to produce a joint team.

Their last joint march was at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, in 2007.

The current reconciliation mood began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Games.

South Korea wants the IOC to allow its hockey team’s 23-player Olympic roster to be expanded so that several North Korean players can be added without removing any of the South Korean players.

But there are worries in South Korea that adding new players less than a month before the Olympics will weaken the team and deprive South Korean players of playing time.

Chief South Korean delegate Chun Hae-sung said the government is well aware of such concerns and North Korea has agreed that the South Korean coach Sarah Murray will be given full authority to select North Korean players to compete.

“If South and North Korea form one team and compete in the Games, that will be an everlasting historic event, which I think will move our people and people around the world,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday.

Murray said a joint team would be a distraction and present challenges, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“I think there is damage to our player,” Murray said Tuesday, according to Yonhap. “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots, and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.

“This is another distraction, and we have to worry about things we can control. We can’t control this situation.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long. Teaching systems and different things … I’d have about a month to teach these (new) players the way our team plays. That makes me a little nervous.

“I hope that I am not being pressured to play (North Koreans). I am hoping we can just play the way we play and not have the influence of, ‘I need to play this player.’ I just want the best players to play. If you play your best, then you earn your ice time. Whether you’re South Korean or North Korean, they have to earn their place.”

North Korea boycotted the previous Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

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Former ski jumper closer to Tour de France podium

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Slovenian Primoz Roglic, a former ski jumper, finished ahead of Tour de France leader Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome in Saturday’s Stage 14, moving eight seconds closer to a possible podium in Paris in eight days.

Nearly 20 minutes after Spain’s Omar Fraile won the stage, Roglic finished eight seconds ahead of Thomas, Froome and Tom Dumoulin, the top three in the Tour standings.

Roglic went from 2:46 behind Thomas to 2:38 behind and moved to 48 seconds behind Dumoulin for third. The 28-year-old Roglic won a junior world title in ski jumping in the team event in 2007 before switching to cycling.

Roglic won a stage in his Tour debut in 2017 and finished 38th overall, then took time trial silver at the world championships.

This season, Roglic won the Tour de Romandie and the Tour of the Basque Country. Now, he’s eyeing Slovenia’s best overall finish in Tour history. Right now, that distinction is shared by Tadej Valjavec and Jani Brajkovic, who were ninth in 2008 and 2012.

The Tour continues Sunday with stage 15, featuring a category-one climb but a descent to the finish, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

While the Welshman Thomas is attempting to win the Tour for the first time, the Kenyan-born Froome is aiming for a record-tying fifth victory in cycling’s biggest race.

Stage 15 from Millau to Carcassonne is another hilly leg before the race’s second rest day on Monday. Then come the Pyrenees and a possibly decisive individual time trial in the penultimate stage before the traditional finish in Paris next weekend.

“We have a plan for the first mountain stage,” Thomas said. “If we go against each other and Dumoulin wins then we would look really stupid. It is the first time I have raced for three weeks as a GC (general classification) leader, so it is an unknown for me.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Paul Chelimo grab defining wins at London Diamond League

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had not raced in the Diamond League in two years. Paul Chelimo had never won at an international meet.

Both grabbed wins at the first day of a Diamond League stop at the London Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Fraser-Pryce, the two-time Olympic 100m champion who missed 2017 due to pregnancy, broke 11 seconds for the first time as a mother. She won in 10.98 seconds, edging American Dezerea Bryant by .06.

“I cannot complain because I haven’t raced for ages and I’m happy that the run today was under 11 seconds,” said Fraser-Pryce, who has raced in smaller meets this spring and summer. “It’s hard work racing after having a child, but it’s not as though it’s anything I’m not used to. I’m used to sacrificing and making sure that my path is right. Being a mother is my first priority and to come back and be flexible with my training is wonderful and I’m so excited about next year now.”

The field lacked the world’s top sprinters — like Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson and world champ Tori Bowie — but the Jamaican Fraser-Pryce impressed with the fastest time in the heats an hour before the final.

In the men’s 100m, meet headliner Christian Coleman withdrew before the heats with a hamstring injury. Coleman, the 2017 World silver medalist, missed all June meets with a hamstring injury. Countryman Ronnie Baker won in 9.90 in his absence, .02 off the fastest time in the world this season that he shares with Noah Lyles.

Full London results are here. The two-day meet concludes Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9 a.m. ET and NBC Sports Gold at 8:45.

In other events, Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo became the second U.S. man to win a Diamond League 5000m. Chelimo surged past Ethiopian Yomif Kejelecha in the last straightaway for his first international win, according to Tilastopaja.org. He clocked 13:14.01 with world champion Muktar Edris of Ethiopia grabbing second in 13:14.35 ahead of Kejelcha.

The only other American man to win a Diamond League 5000m was Ben True in 2014.

The 2012 Olympic 400m champion Kirani James finished third in his first Diamond League race since his Rio Olympic silver medal. James, of Grenada, missed time after being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease.

James led up until about 300 meters and faded in the last straightaway as Qatar’s Abdalleleh Haroun won in 44.07. James crossed in 44.50, just off his 2018 best time of 44.35 that ranks him 10th in the world this season.

In the pole vault, Sam Kendricks outdueled Renaud Lavillenie, clearing 5.92 meters to better the Frenchman for a 12th time in their last 15 head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja.

U.S. champion Shamier Little outleaned Jamaican Janieve Russell to win the 400m hurdles by .01 in 53.95. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was third in 54.86.

“I put my soul into that lean,” Little said, according to meet organizers.

Little, the 2015 World silver medalist, has been best in the event in the second half of the season, following her June national title with two straight Diamond League wins. The fastest woman this year is American Sydney McLaughlin (52.75), who appears to have ended her season at the NCAA Championships in early June.

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