North Korean athletes and cheerleaders returned home Monday after the North sent a record size delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which ended the previous day.
Nearly 300 North Koreans, including 22 athletes and 229 cheerleaders, crossed the inter-Korean border to return home at 12:38 p.m. after leaving a checkpoint in Paju, just south of the border, according to pool reports.
North Korea sent a 492-strong Olympics delegation, which included athletes, musicians, cheerleaders and taekwondo demonstrators, to the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games in South Korea. A North Korean art troupe and a taekwondo demonstration team have already returned home.
The two Koreas have engaged in a flurry of sports diplomacy since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in his New Year’s Day message.
|Nearly 300 North Koreans, including 22 athletes and 229 cheerleaders, crossed the inter-Korean border to return home on Monday after leaving a checkpoint in Paju, just south of the border. (Yonhap)|
South and North Korea saw their athletes jointly march under a unified flag at the opening ceremony and fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team.
“Thank you for enthusiastic support,” Kim Ju-sik, a North Korean male figure skater, told pool reporters when asked how he felt about participating in the Games.
An unidentified female ice hockey player said every competition was so impressive.
Asked whether she believes the two Koreas could form a joint women’s hockey team in the future, she said, “There will be, definitely.”
Hundreds of North Korean female cheerleaders made their first appearance in 13 years at an international sports event hosted by the South.
They rooted for the joint women’s hockey team and also South Korean athletes at some competitions.
“I thought that the two Koreas could be unified as soon as possible as we are one,” a cheerleader said. “I was so happy as I could cheer for the unified team.”
Now that the delegation has left for home, there remains only an eight-member high-level government delegation led by Kim Yong-chol, a top party official in charge of inter-Korean affairs.
They are currently on a three-day visit through Tuesday.
The North plans to send a 150-member delegation to the Paralympics scheduled for March 9-18. The two Koreas plan to hold working-level talks Tuesday to discuss details of the North’s participation in the upcoming Games. (Yonhap)