North Korean athletes arrive in South Korea
A North Korean figure skating pair along with eight other athletes has arrived in South Korea to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics due to be held next week, setting the stage for a “peace Olympics” following a year of heightened tensions.
Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, along with three cross-country skiers, three alpine skiers, and two short-track speed skaters landed at the small Yangyang International Airport, in the northern Gangwon Province, via a chartered Asiana Airlines plane on Thursday.
Last Thursday, 12 female ice hockey players from the North arrived in South Korea and started training with their southern counterparts in what will be the first unified Korean team in 27 years. They will parade together under the Korean Unification Flag, which features a blue silhouette of the Korean Peninsula and its outlying islands, during the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on February 9.
On Wednesday, a delegation of 45 people — including 20 skiers, support staff, and journalists — departed South Korea for North Korea’s Wonsan to take part in joint training in the Masikryong ski resort. The delegation flew back a day later accompanied by the North’s 10-strong team.
The two Koreas have long had strained ties. Tensions skyrocketed last year with repeated North Korean missile and nuclear tests and increased South Korean joint military action with the United States.
But South and North Koreas then launched rare talks in early January this year to bring North Koreans to the Pyeongchang Games after the North’s leader Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to open up discussions with Seoul during his New Year’s speech.
Pyongyang agreed to send athletes, cheerleaders, officials, and an art troupe to the South, and both sides decided to march together under a unification flag at the opening ceremony and form a joint women’s ice hockey team.
The last time South Korea hosted an Olympics — in 1988 — Pyongyang refused to participate. Seoul now prepares to host its second Games, with the participation of the North, which has raised the prospect of uniting the Korean Peninsula.
The North and South Korea have been separated by a heavily militarized border since the three-year-long Korean War came to an end in 1953. The conflict ended with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty and left many families separated at the two sides.