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(3rd LD) N. Korea to send 22 athletes in three sports to PyeongChang Winter Olympics: IOC

All Headlines 23:42 January 20, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 15-16)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea will send 22 athletes to compete in three sports at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Saturday.

IOC President Thomas Bach made the announcement here after chairing a four-party meeting with representatives from the PyeongChang Olympic Organizing Committee and the respective national Olympic bodies of the two Koreas. IOC members from the two countries, Ryu Seung-min from the South and Chang Ung from the North, were also on hand.

Bach said that, in addition to those athletes in three sports and five disciplines -- women's hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing -- North Korea will also send 24 officials, including coaches.

In this Associated Press photo, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (C), North Korean Sports Minister Kim Il-guk (L) and South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan hold up documents after a signing ceremony for the IOC's North and South Korean Olympic Participation Meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

The Koreas agreed Wednesday on the North's participation in the first Winter Olympics to be held in the South and also on a joint women's hockey team. It was up to the IOC to finalize the details, including protocols regarding the North's uniform, anthem and flag, and the size of the North's athletic delegation.

Bach said the IOC made "exceptional decisions" to ensure the participation of North Korean athletes since none qualified for the competition.

The Koreas will have a unified women's hockey team competing under the Korean Unification Flag -- an image of the Korean Peninsula in blue against a white background -- and their anthem will be the Korean folk song "Arirang." The team will use the acronym COR and will be the first joint Korean sports team at an Olympic Games.

South Korea named 23 players on Thursday, and North Korea will add 12 players. Game rosters are set at 22, with 20 skaters and two goalies, and the head coach Sarah Murray will have to pick at least three North Koreans for each match.

South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan, who attended Saturday's meeting, said determining the roster size for hockey was the biggest sticking point.

"Early on, the International Ice Hockey Federation said it could actually expand the game rosters by about five players to 27," Do said. "But the IOC said it wouldn't be fair, and we also said we wouldn't accept that."

Do said he hopes the North Korean hockey players will travel to South Korea "as soon as possible" so that all the athletes can have enough time to train together. South Korea's first game in the group stage is against Switzerland on Feb. 10, one day after the opening ceremony.

"Under our (inter-Korean) agreement, all North Korean athletes are scheduled to arrive in PyeongChang on Feb. 1," Do said. "But we talked to North Korea about bringing in the hockey players a few days in advance. And our players said they'd like to start working out with the North Koreans as soon as possible so that they can figure out each other's strengths and build teamwork."

This Reuters photo shows the start of the International Olympic Committee's North and South Korean Olympic Participation Meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan. 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

In other sports, the Koreas will compete in their respective uniforms. The pairs team of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik will represent the North. They actually qualified for PyeongChang last fall but missed an Oct. 30 deadline to confirm their participation.

In short track speed skating, Jong Kwang-bom in the men's 1,500 meters and Choe Un-song in the men's 500 meters will represent North Korea.

Han Chun-gyong, Pak Il-chol and Ri Yong-gum will compete for the North in cross-country skiing, and Choe Myong-gwang, Kang Song-il and Kim Ryon-hyang will compete in alpine skiing.

The delegation of 22 athletes is North Korea's largest ever at the Winter Olympics. The previous record was 13 athletes at the Innsbruck Winter Games in 1964, which was also the North's first Winter Olympics appearance.

North Korea has taken part in eight Winter Games prior to PyeongChang, winning one silver and one bronze medal. In addition to the 1964 Games, North Korea sent athletes to the Winter Olympics in 1972, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1998, 2006 and 2010.

The IOC said it will provide any necessary technical equipment in cooperation with those sports' international federations.

"The Olympic Games are always about building bridges; they never erect walls," Bach said. "The Olympic spirit is about respect, dialogue and understanding. The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door for a brighter future on the Korean Peninsula and inviting the world to join in the celebration of hope."


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