N. Korea to send 22 athletes to Pyeongchang Olympics

North Korea will send 22 athletes, and 24 coaches and officials to next month's Winter Games in South Korea, the International Olympic Committee announced Saturday. The delegation will compete in three sports and five disciplines. North Korea's participation was agreed to in a meeting between IOC President Thomas Bach, the organizers of the Pyeongchang games, and the national Olympic committees of both nations. The two nations will march into the opening ceremony under the name "Korea," while flying the Korean unification flag and marching to the song "Arirang." "I am sure this will be a very emotional moment not only for all Koreans but also for the entire world," Bach said. "Coming myself from a formerly divided country (Germany), it is a moment that I am also personally looking forward to with great anticipation and great emotion." According to the IOC, the three sports in which North Korea will compete are skiing and ice skating in addition to women's ice hockey. North Korea will send two figure skaters to compete in the pairs competition, two male speed skaters, two men and one woman in cross-country skiing distance events, and two men and one woman in Alpine skiing's giant slalom and slalom races. For the first time in Olympic history, the two nations will form a joint team, in women's ice hockey, that will compete under the unification flag. "Let us not forget that such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago," Bach said. "In this respect, I would like to express my most sincere thanks to the governments of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) for paving the way for these decisions in the Olympic spirit." Special exemptions were made to the tournament quotas to allow North Korean participation. The unified ice hockey team will be made up of the 23 members of South Korea's existing team and 12 North Korean skaters. Only 22 players will be allowed to participate in any game, however, and at least three players from each national Olympic committee must be present at each game. An additional berth in the pairs figure skating was made for North Korea's Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik. The pair had already qualified but their Olympic committee had not confirmed their participation and their berth handed to a Japanese pair. The games will run from Feb. 9-25. Earlier this month, the two Koreas held their first official talks in more than two years, where the North showed interest in sending a delegation of athletes and high-ranking government officials to the Winter Games. The two countries have held working-level talks since. The developments came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un struck a conciliatory note on relations with South Korea in his New Year's address amid tensions over Pyongyang's continued development of nuclear and ballistic weapons. The idea of forming a joint women's ice hockey team had stirred controversy in South Korea and participating nations. In South Korea, it was felt a unified 23-member team would prevent deserving South Korean skaters from participating. Other nations were concerned a 35-member combined roster as was approved would provide an unfair competitive advantage. South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong Hwan, who attended Saturday's meeting, expressed hope that 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, Yonhap News Agency reported. North Korea will also send 24 officials and 21 media representatives.

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