North Korean Olympic athletes checked in to their living quarters for the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Games amid tight security on Thursday.
Pyongyang's vice sports minister Won Kil-u led a delegation of 32, including 10 athletes, to Gangneung, a sub-host city for all ice events during the Feb. 9-25 Olympic Games. They'd landed at Yangyang International Airport on a South Korean chartered plane earlier Thursday, and traveled about 50 kilometers south to reach Gangneung Olympic Village.
Gangneung's village, built for those in ice sports, is one of two athletes' residential areas for the Olympics. PyeongChang Olympic Village will house competitors in snow events.
The 10 athletes that arrived here Thursday are three alpine skiers, three cross-country skiers, two figure skaters and two short track speed skaters.
Ryom Tae-ok, a pairs figure skater, was the center of attention from the moment she appeared at the airport. The petite athlete, who turns 19 on Friday, was one of the few who showed any semblance of emotion, flashing a sheepish grin at cameras as flashbulbs exploded around her both at the airport and the village.
Asked to comment on her visit, Ryom simply said, "I don't talk before competitions."
She then added, "It's cold here."
The athletes and officials who arrived Thursday all received temporary accreditations to enter the village. They're expected to get their formal credentials soon.
They will be joined later by 12 women's ice hockey players, who have been here since last week, to train with South Koreans on the unified team.
The joint team will play Sweden in a pre-Olympic tuneup match at 6 p.m. Sunday in Incheon, just west of Seoul, and travel to Gangneung after the game.
The Koreas agreed on the North's participation in PyeongChang 2018, the first Winter Olympics to take place in South Korea, on Jan. 17. Three days later, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved North Korea's participation and said it will accredit 22 athletes and 24 officials from North Korea. After the arrival of the delegation on Thursday, there are 22 athletes and 25 officials currently in South Korea. Reasons behind the addition of one official weren't immediately clear.
North Korea is competing in an Olympic Games in the South for the first time, after it boycotted the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. North Korea's participation has generated a great deal of interest locally and internationally, leading some to complain that the rogue regime has stolen PyeongChang's thunder and to derisively call these the "Pyongyang Olympics."
IOC President Thomas Bach and PyeongChang's organizing officials have hailed North Korea's participation and said the country's presence can send a message of peace to the rest of the world. In addition to having the joint hockey team, the Koreas will march in as one at the opening ceremony behind the Korean Unification Flag, which will be carried by a flagbearer from each of the two countries.