SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and have their athletes parade together for the first time in 11 years during the opening ceremony of next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, officials said.
The agreements still require approval from the International Olympic Committee. But they are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics following a year of heightened tension over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements including fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team and marching together under a “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the opening ceremony, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.
A joint statement distributed by the ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border. It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, and journalists, athletes and officials.
Ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics, the Koreas will hold a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and have non-Olympic skiers train together at the North’s Masik ski resort, according to the statement. It said the North also plans to send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics in March.
The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional. But it’s still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to Pyeongchang because none are currently qualified. South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.
A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s 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. IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the Pyeongchang organizing committee in Switzerland on Saturday.
The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has “taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources.”
“There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne,” it said.
The two Koreas have previously sent joint teams to major international sports events twice, both in 1991. One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, and the other was soccer’s World Youth Championship in Portugal.
During an era of detente in the 2000s, their athletes marched together during the opening and closing ceremonies of nine international sporting events, including the Olympics and Asian Games, but they failed to produce a joint team.
The current reconciliation mood began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the games. Critics have said Kim’s overture is an attempt to use improved ties with South Korea to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions on North Korea while buying time to perfect his nuclear weapons program.
The moves nevertheless have provided a temporary thaw in the Koreas’ long-strained ties and fostered optimism that North Korea won’t launch any new provocations, at least during the Olympics.
Some conservative critics say North Korea’s cheering and artistic groups are too big, and worry the North may try to steal the show at the Olympics to launch what they call a “peace offensive.”
North Korea also sent highly trained female cheering groups dressed in bright, attractive outfits when it attended previous international sports events in South Korea. The groups, chosen for their cheering skills as well as their good looks and dubbed “beauty squads” by South Korean media, often received more attention than their athletes. Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, was a member of a 2005 squad.
North Korea under Kim Jong Un has made sports, and especially success in international sporting events, a high priority. While it’s not a major winter sports competitor, North Korean athletes have set several weightlifting world records and its women hold a high profile on the world football scene.
When traveling abroad, however, North Korean athletes and coaches tend to cloister themselves away from outsiders when they are not competing or practicing. Defections are likely a concern, along with what their minders might deem to be ideological “contamination,” so they are kept under close scrutiny.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at email@example.com.
• The Rangers put an end to the Flyers’ four-game winning streak last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.
• Check out this mid-season review of the Bruins season so far. Things are looking up in Boston. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)
• Now that the Oilers are on their bye week, it’s the perfect time to look at their mid-season report card. There’s an “F” and a few D grades to go around. (Oilers Nation)
• Flames GM Brad Treliving talks about Glen Gulutzan’s tirade in practice at the beginning of the month and the concept of the bye week for NHL teams in this Q&A. (Sporting News)
• South Koreans are worried about a potential merger between themselves and the North Korean hockey team. (Associated Press)
• Team Canada assistant GM Martin Brodeur has won Olympic gold before, and he’d love to do it again this year. (CBC)
• The Philadelphia Flyers will retire Eric Lindros’ number 88 on Thursday night. (Philly.com)
Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars
On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.
When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.
Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.
He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.
Another big injury for Nashville
They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.
Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.
Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.
The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.
Highlight Of The Night
Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Factoid Of The Night
A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.
New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1
New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2
St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0
San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2
Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.
According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.
Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.
Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.
In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.
In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.
As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.