North Korea to skip Olympic soccer qualifier in South Korea

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North Korea will skip an Olympic women’s soccer qualifying tournament hosted by South Korea in February.

The Asian Football Confederation confirmed a Yonhap News Agency report of North Korea’s withdrawal.

North Korea is ranked 11th in the world, second-highest among Asian nations trying to qualify for the Tokyo Games behind No. 7 Australia. Two nations will qualify via Asia to join Japan, ranked 10th and automatically qualified for the Olympics as host nation.

North Korea would have been scheduled to play South Korea on the South Korean island of Jeju at the Olympic qualifier.

Women’s soccer is the only team sport where North Korea fielded a squad at recent Olympics, doing so in 2008 and 2012. It earned one win at each of those Games and lost 1-0 to the U.S. in London.

In 2017, North Korea competed at a lower-level women’s ice hockey world championship in South Korea. Ten months later, North Korean players were added to the South Korean team at the PyeongChang Olympics. The two nations also marched together at the Opening Ceremony under a unified Korea flag.

“Talks about having another joint march and fielding more unified teams at the Tokyo Olympics have all but died,” according to Yonhap.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

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Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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