North Korea 'Sending 22 Athletes' to 2018 Winter Olympics

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North Korea will send 22 athletes to next month's Winter Games in the South, the International Olympic Committee said today, and confirmed that the two nations will march together at the opening ceremony. This unified women's ice hockey team is created by adding 12 players and one official from the NOC of the DPRK to the existing ROK Olympic squad of 23 players.

It was unclear whether the cancellation cast any doubt over the preparations for the North's participation in next months Winter Olympics in South Korea's Pyeongchang, an apparent diplomatic breakthrough after months of high tension over the North's nuclear and missile program.

The Samjiyon art troupe, which comprises orchestra members, singers and dancers, is part of North Korea's Olympic delegation that also includes athletes, officials, journalists and a taekwondo demonstration team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

The North first abruptly canceled the visit this weekend, just hours after proposing it through a cross-border hotline, then late Saturday announced it would go ahead.

An Olympic deal became possible after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year's speech that a team could cross the border to compete.

She is the leader of Pyongyang's all-female Moranbong Band, which was hand-picked by leader Kim Jong Un.

The IOC has approved that delegations from the two countries be marching together as one under the name "Korea" at the Opening Ceremony and led into the Olympic Stadium by the Korean Unification Flag, carried by two athletes from the two NOCs respectively.

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Other reconciliatory gestures the Koreas have agreed to for include a joint march under a blue-and-white "unification" flag during the February 9 opening ceremony and a pair of performances by a visiting North Korean art troupe.

South Korea's Ministry of Unification on Saturday requested an explanation on Saturday, and informed the North that Seoul intends to follow the plans agreed to in the high-level talks. South Korea is to send its own advance team to North Korea on Tuesday to review logistics for a joint cultural event at the North's Diamond Mountain and their non-Olympic skiers' joint practices at the North's Masik ski resort, the ministry said.

He said: "It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea".

"Our players were really nervous", Sarah Murray, South Korean women's hockey head coach, told Reuters last month during the team's training swing through the United States.

Critics of the unity deal believe that Kim Jong-un may try to leverage the Olympics to weaken US-led worldwide pressure and sanctions toughened due to North Korea's prolonged program of nuclear tests and missile launches.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon came under fire when he said South Korea's women's ice hockey team is out of medal contention.

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