PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - American ski racer Ted Ligety is all in favor of North Korean athletes competing at this month’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang and says one of the key goals of the Olympics is to help countries overcome their differences through sport.
North and South Korea agreed last month to march together under one flag at the Games, which open on Friday, and will field a combined women’s ice hockey team.
The North is sending a total of 22 athletes to South Korea with the remainder competing in Alpine and cross-country skiing, figure skating and speed skating.
Ligety, at his fourth Olympics after Turin, Vancouver and Sochi, said the inclusion of North Korea at Asia’s first Winter Games outside Japan was a “positive thing”.
“I think it’s great that the North Koreans are going to be able to compete at the Games,” the 33-year-old added.
“I think that an important part of the mission of the Olympics is being inclusive and to try to bring the world together.”
Double Olympic champion Ligety, who won gold in the combined event in Turin and in the Sochi giant slalom, said that as a child he could never have imagined he would have such a long and successful career.
“It’s always an honour to be in the Olympics so to be here for the fourth time is pretty remarkable.”
He also said he was lucky that he competed in ski racing where doping is “not really as big an issue” as in other sports.
“It probably happens but it’s not like cross-country skiing or something like that,” he added.
The buildup to the Olympics has been overshadowed by doping headlines after the International Olympic committee (IOC) banned Russia from competing in Pyeongchang over “systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system in Sochi four years ago.
It later invited 169 Russian athletes with no history of doping to participate in a team officially known as “Olympic Athletes from Russia”.
Editing by John O'Brien