North Korea Is in Winter Olympics Without Any Star Athletes

North Korea Is in Winter Olympics Without Any Star Athletes

Although it is possible that North Korea has a hidden gem — its 1964 speed skating silver medalist, Han Pil-hwa, came out of nowhere — it seems as if most of its athletes will be destined for also ran finishes.

The biggest impact by the North Korean delegation at Pyeongchang might be by the cheerleading squad or performance art group it plans to send.

North Korea has attended Winter Games sporadically, starting in 1964. It has won two medals, a silver in speed skating in 1964 and a bronze in short-track speedskating in 1992.

North Korea failed to qualify any athletes four years ago. In 2010, its two athletes, a figure skater and a speed skater, did not finish better than ninth.

North Korea has been much more successful in the Summer Games. It has competed in them since 1972, though it boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Games in Seoul. It has won 54 medals, 16 of them gold, in events including weight lifting, wrestling, gymnastics and boxing.

It won two gold and seven total medals in Rio. Both of its winners, in gymnastics and weight lifting, were the favorites going in.

In November 1987, nearly a year before the Summer Games in Seoul, a South Korean airliner exploded, killing more than 100 people. Western intelligence agencies say North Korea was responsible and the United States considers it a terrorist attack. Just last month, Foreign Policy magazine ran a disquieting headline: “Will North Korea Blow Up the Winter Olympics?”

Though we are unlikely to hear the North Korean anthem next month, the attendance of its athletes surely are a relief to Olympics organizers.

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