North Korea to send 230-member cheering squad in Winter Olympics

North Korea’s cheerleading squad — dubbed the Hermit Kingdom’s “army of beauties” — are handpicked by Kim Jong Un himself. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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North Korea to send 230-member cheering squad in Winter Olympics

SEOUL: North Korea plans to send a 230-member cheering squad to South Korea as part of its delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics, Seoul officials said Wednesday, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures the North has abruptly taken recently following a year of heightened nuclear tension.
North Korea informed South Korea of the size of its Olympic cheering squad when officials from the rivals met at the border for the third time in less than 10 days to discuss how to cooperate in the Olympics.
A flurry of Olympics-related meetings has provided a tentative thaw in long-strained ties between the Koreas. But the North’s reluctance to discuss its nuclear weapons program is raising skepticism over how long this mood of reconciliation will last.
During Wednesday’s talks, the North also told South Korea that it has a plan to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Paralympics set for March 9-18, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a statement. A detailed makeup of the North Korean Paralympics delegation will be determined in further talks between the Koreas, it said.
The Koreas also discussed fielding a joint women’s hockey team and having their athletes march under a “unification flag” depicting the Korean Peninsula, instead of their respective national flags, during the opening ceremony for the February 9-25 Games in Pyeongchang, the ministry statement said.
It said North Korea proposed its Olympic delegation travel to south across the heavily fortified land border. Such a border crossing would be a highly emotional event garnering global attention.
The North has said its delegation would also include high-level officials, journalists, a taekwondo demonstration team and an art troupe along with athletes. On Monday, the two Koreas agreed that a 140-member North Korean art troupe comprising orchestra members, singers and dancers would perform in the South during the Games.
Despite its plans to send big cheering and artistic groups, no North Korean athletes are currently officially qualified to come to Pyeongchang though the Intentional Olympic Committee recently said it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games.
Some critics say the North may be trying to use the Olympics as a chance to launch what they call “peace offensive” to show it’s a normal country despite pursuing nuclear weapons. They also accuse Pyongyang of trying to divide Seoul and Washington to weaken international sanctions and buy time to perfect its nuclear weapons.
The International Olympic Committee is to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the Pyeongchang organizing committee at its headquarters in Switzerland on Saturday.
A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for the 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.
South Korea also wants the IOC to allow the 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. If a joint hockey squad is realized, it would be the Koreas’ first unified team in an Olympics.
There are still worries in South Korea that adding new players less than a month before the Olympics would eventually weaken the team power and deprive South Korean players of due playing time.
“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,” Sarah Murray, the South Korea women hockey team’s head coach, told reporters Tuesday, according to Yonhap news agency. “I think there is damage to our players.”


Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri wins historic first gold for the country.
Updated 18 October 2018
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Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

  • The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics
  • I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, said the gold medalist

BUENOS AIRES: It is said that the karate-ka who has given the necessary years of commitment and meditation to the sport is both fearless and tranquil. They can, it is said, be calm even in a burning building.

Last night, inside a furnace-like Europe Pavilion at the Youth Olympic Park, and in front of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri won the Kingdom its first ever Olympic gold medal. And welcomed it, initially at least, with utmost calm. 

Defeating Masaki Yamaoka of Japan 8-0 in the Men’s Kumite -61kg final, the 17-year-old Saudi immediately thanked his opponent and bowed to the various officials, before turning to his coach, removing his red gloves slowly, and greeting him with a starch salute. Only afterwards, once these rituals of respect were over and his opponent had slipped away, did Al-Assiri explode with joy, his face contorting into beautiful agony as he screamed in guttural Arabic and jumped around the mat.

“I am so happy, so proud,” he said, his prize glinting in the spotlight of the world’s media. “This is the first gold medal for Saudi Arabia and our first medal ever in karate. I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, especially in the past two when my training intensified. I came for gold and this is the result of years of serious work. It was very difficult, but I am just so proud. Thank you to Allah.”

The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics, after bronze medals in weightlifting and 400m Hurdles. It is a stellar return for a country that brought only nine athletes to Argentina and has won just one medal at this level before, a bronze in equestrian four years ago. Yousef Jalaiden, the chef de mission for the Saudi delegation, had confidently predicted medals earlier this week, but even he admits expectations have been exceeded.

“We are very happy right now,” Jalaiden said, watching as Al-Assiri, wrapped in the Saudi flag, posed for photos with Prince Fahd bin Juluwe bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, the head of the delegation. “It’s our best achievement ever at an Olympics — be it Youth or the full Olympics. We are so happy — we hoped for three medals, like I said before, and we got them,”

Karate is making its Olympic debut this week ahead of Tokyo 2020 and Assiri had secured his place after winning at the first qualifying event in Croatia this summer. In front of vocal support from Saudis and Egyptians, he was handed the historic victory after his offensive front-footed display culminated with Yamaoka fouling four times during their bout.

“During training, people from other countries were all telling us Mohammed would take gold, but for us it was never a certainty,” Jalaiden added. “We expected him to reach the final, but when you get to a final, anything can happen. He has been training exceptionally hard though and it has all paid off.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Egypt’s Yasmin Nasr El-Gewily won the Women’s Kumite 53kg final, defeating Japan’s Rinka Tahata 2-1. “Egypt are our neighbours and we have an excellent relationship with them, so today it is like our nation is one,” said Jalaiden. “We have both enjoyed great success here.”