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South Korea set to host 2024 Youth Winter Olympics; North Korea could be involved

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Olympic events are set to soon return to South Korea at some of the venues used for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

On the sidelines of the Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, the International Olympic Committee will vote this week to approve Gangwon province as host of the 2024 Youth Winter Games.

North Korea is not currently part of the 2024 project despite earlier hopes of cooperation between the neighboring countries.

The fourth edition of the Winter Youth Olympics would be the first held outside Europe. Austria and Norway hosted previous editions.

The South Korean proposal includes the cities of PyeongChang and Gangneung, which were the hub of the 2018 Olympics.

North Korea could yet be involved “if the conditions are right,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.

The IOC executive board also agreed to add the new sports of baseball5, a street version of the game with five players per team, and wushu, a Chinese martial art, to the program for the 2022 Youth Olympics in Dakar, Senegal. Those Games will be held from late October into November.

MORE: 2020 Youth Winter Olympics TV schedule

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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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North Korean pairs’ team takes next step after Olympic debut

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Apart from China, Asian countries still have to work their way up in pairs’ skating. North Korea progressed last season when Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik qualified outright for the Olympics in the fall. A missed entry deadline nearly derailed their plans, and their next major competition wasn’t until January’s Four Continents Championships.

Between competitions, much was written about the team and the six months they spent training in Montreal with renowned pairs coach Bruno Marcotte. They used Four Continents as an Olympic tune-up and won their country’s first ISU medal, a bronze.

In PyeongChang, they finished a creditable 13th place. A month later at worlds, 12th.

Ahead of Internationaux de France, they spent two weeks training with a local club in Villard de Lans.

“They absolutely don’t bear the image I would have expected from North Koreans,” Karine Arribert-Narce, a prominent ice dance coach in France, offered after the two weeks she spent with them. “They have developed a very strong artistic fiber. They were very interested in all the music pieces I had prepared for my own students. Each time they step on the ice, they start working right away and don’t speak one word. They radiate on the ice as they work.”

Ryom and Kim ultimately finished fourth in France. Their total score of 187.95 marked a personal best and puts them 12th in the world so far this season, though each of the Olympic medalists are not competing this fall, or retired.

Their team leader, Ri Chol-un, and coach, Kim Hyon-son, joined their NBCSports.com/figure-skating interview as interpreters from Korean to English. The team requested before the interview that it only dealt with his team’s skating.

Ri and Kim were prominent pair skaters in their own time in North Korea. “Back in 1992, our country organized international competitions,” Ri said. “I won medals in junior, but Ms. Kim was much better than I was. We never skated together. She participated in the first Asian Games in Sapporo. Then she went to university and graduated to become a coach.”

How satisfied are you about your performance in Grenoble?

Ri: Our athletes were not satisfied when they finished the competition in Grenoble. Their performance was not perfect, [Ryom did not launch her side-by-side double Axel], but they cried after their performance was over. These skaters love skating so much.

Did they enjoy skating in Grenoble?

Ri: Yes, they had pleasure skating there. Even though their performance in the free program was not so good, the audience cheered at them throughout.

How long do Ryom and Kim train every day?

Ri: They usually spend four hours a day on the ice, and two more hours off the ice. These days they skate two hours only, plus off-ice time. During competitions they have to control their body condition, so they reduce the amount of ice time.

Ju-sik, the way you accompany your partner as she comes back to the ice after a lift or a twist is smoother than most of your competitors. How do you work on this?

Kim: We work this way in practice, always. I hold her like if she were a flower bouquet. When I catch her or lift her, I feel responsible for her.

Ryom: I trust him a lot, too. That allows him to do that.

Kim: Our connection allows to do that. I have to be connected with her, always, even in practice. Coach’s requirement. All pairs have to be connected, right?

Are you married together?

Kim: No [smiling].

Another impressive feature of your skating is your unison, for example your side-by-side triple toe. How did you learn that?

Kim: First, we have to put our minds together. That’s the most important element. We practice many, many times.

Are there any specific technical elements you’re particularly working on?

Kim: After our first Grand Prix in Helsinki [they finished fifth], we worked on every single element and the overall performance in practice. We mostly focus on technical elements, especially the death spiral.

Your free program is set to a French song, “Je ne suis qu’une chanson” (or “I am only a song”), by Canadian singer Ginette Reno. How do you relate to it?

Kim: Our coach was very impressed by this song, and by the singer’s voice. There is a great passion and emotion in this song, and we can feel it. There is also a great passion and emotion in our skating. Our coach thought that it might be right for our personality.

What would you like to achieve in skating?

Ri: They would dream to be top skaters in the world. This year is the first year they participate in the Grand Prix Series. After the Olympic Games, the skaters and their coach hoped to skate in Grand Prix. Now, after two competitions, they have gained more experience with other skaters and coaches. This should allow them to improve and reach a new level toward that dream.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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