SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean figure skating pair arrived in South Korea on Thursday by airplane, along with eight athletes, to compete in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics that will begin next week.
The figure skating pair were the only North Koreans to have secured a spot at the Winter Games through the conventional qualifying competition.
Despite losing their place after failing to register, they were handed one quota place by the International Olympic Committee last month.
Three alpine skiers, three cross-country skiers and two short-track skaters accompanied the pair, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.
The North Korean athletes and delegation led by Won Kil U, the country’s vice minister of physical culture and sports, immediately boarded a bus for the athletes’ village in Gangneung, one of the Games venues.
The North Korean athletes, who have been also been handed quota places, will join 12 ice hockey players who arrived in South Korea last month.
North and South Korea have agreed to march under a single flag at the opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang Olympics and field a united team in the women’s ice hockey after rare inter-Korean talks were launched in early January.
Quota places are a rarely-used form of wild card.
On the Asiana flight to South Korea’s Yangyang International Airport, the North Korean athletes were with South Koreans who finished up a two-day joint ski training programme that began Wednesday at the North’s Masikryong ski resort.
According to a pool report from South Korean reporters who accompanied the athletes, the visitors from the South were given a 19-course meal on the second floor of the hotel at the ski resort.
Members of the South Korean crew supporting the athletes, as well as journalists, were given a set of padded clothes, hats, goggles and gloves, the report said.
When asked to compare the ski resort to South Korean ski facilities, athletes told reporters there that Masikryong “wasn’t largely lacking”.
The physical facilities may have been satisfactory, but the internet service was slow, despite North Korea charging the visitors $4.60 every 30 minutes, said the pool report, with some journalists giving up on using it altogether.
Reporting by Christine Kim, Joint Press Corps; Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Clarence Fernandez