Final countdown - Outlook much brighter for Pyeongchang Games after N Korea deal

Sports | 12 Jan 2018

Pyeongchang Winter Olympics organizers are entering their final preparations with renewed confidence after neighboring North Korea ended months of speculation by confirming its attendance, immediately easing fears over security and ticket sales.

With one month to go, the outlook is suddenly much brighter for the "Peace Olympics," which had been rocked by the drugs ban on Russia's team and concerns over potential disruption by the nuclear-armed North.

North Korea, which boycotted the 1988 Seoul Summer Games, this week agreed to attend its first Olympics in the South during talks which defused tensions over its nuclear program and missile tests.

France, Germany and Austria had all voiced fears about competing in Pyeongchang during the stand-off with North Korea, which lies just 80 kilometers away from the Olympic site across a heavily fortified border.

"Security concerns over the North's nuclear threats during the Pyeongchang Olympics have evaporated at a stroke," said Park Sung Bae, a sports industry expert from Hanyang University. "No one would now think the North could lob nuclear bombs over the heads of its own athletes."

The North Korean delegation is expected to run into the hundreds, even though only two of their athletes - figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik - have so far qualified to compete in the showpiece, which runs from February 9 to February 25.

Olympic officials have said they will consider offering wildcards to athletes from the country. Cross-country skiers and speed skaters are understood to be among those who could benefit.

According to reports, the North Koreans - including its "army of beauties" female cheering squad - could be accommodated on a cruise ship in a nearby city.

"There has been plenty of speculation on whether North Korea would participate or not, but now that it's been confirmed, we'll have to be prepared that much more," said Lee Hee Beom, head of the organizing committee.

The news of North Korea's involvement is highly welcome for Pyeongchang after Russia's team was barred en masse by the International Olympic Committee last month over a wide-ranging doping conspiracy.

According to organizers, about 703,000 Olympic tickets had been sold as of January 9, nearly 60 percent of the 1.18 million available. About half of all Olympics tickets are normally sold in the last two months and during the Games, they say.


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