N. Korea Olympic skaters begin training in South, 1 injured

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) North Korean skaters attending this month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea began their training Friday, and one was injured during his first practice. A giant North Korean flag hanging from a North Korean apartment in the athletes’ village also captured the media spotlight.

Short-track speed skater Choe Un Song fell and slid into a padded wall during his practice at the Gangneung Ice Arena with his teammate Jong Kwang Bom. Players from Italy and France skated with the North Koreans, but there was little interaction between them.

The 25-year-old was taken to a nearby hospital, and officials later said he was released after a laceration on his ankle was treated. Jong and a North Korean coach didn’t respond to questions from journalists as they left the venue.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters also practiced at the arena earlier Friday.

They are among 10 North Korean athletes who arrived Thursday evening in the second and final group of a total of 22 athletes from North Korea who will attend the Winter Games. The other 12 athletes, all female hockey players, came to South Korea last week to practice with South Korean teammates with whom they have formed the first-ever joint Korean team in the Olympics.

The Koreas are in a rare Olympics-inspired reconciliation mood after a year of heightened animosities over North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile programs. They agreed to march together in the Feb. 9 opening ceremony and on North Korea sending a 230-member cheering group and a 140-person art troupe to the South during the games.

On Thursday, a massive North Korean flag hung across three floors of the North Korean delegation’s apartments at the Gangneung athletes’ village. Many other national flags were also displayed on the balconies of their athletes’ rooms, but South Korean media reported that the North’s flag was the largest. A day earlier, a smaller North Korean flag joined the flags of countries taking part in the games at a small plaza in the village.

Displaying a North Korean national flag in a public place is normally prohibited in South Korea under its strict anti-North Korean security law. But South Korea allows exceptions when it hosts international events that draw North Korean delegations.

Last month, anti-North activists burned a North Korean flag along with a large photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the head of a popular North Korean girl band passed them during a pre-Olympics visit to South Korea.

Some experts see the North’s cooperation in the South Korean-hosted Olympics as an attempt to use improved inter-Korean ties as a way to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions against North Korea.

In Washington, President Donald Trump said the inter-Korean dialogue concerning the Olympics is ”a good thing, not a bad thing,” but added a word of caution.

”It’s a very tricky situation. We’re going to find out how it goes. But we think the Olympics will go very nicely, and after that, who knows? We’ll find out. We’ll find out pretty soon, I suspect,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with a group of North Korean defectors.

Earlier Friday, Trump spoke by phone with leaders of South Korea and Japan to ask them to keep up the pressure on North Korea.

Many conservatives also question why North Korean flags are allowed in South Korea while South Korean skiers who recently participated in a goodwill event at a North Korean ski resort weren’t allowed to display their national flags on their uniforms.

Near the Gangneung athletes’ village, Cho Kyung Soon, a 44-year-old real estate agent, said she found no problem with the giant North Korean flag, which she can see from her office. ”I don’t think they can gain a big propaganda achievement by putting up one national flag … I think they may want to get on the good side of Kim Jong Un,” she said.

Chung Ui-hong, a 65-year-old janitor at a nearby apartment, said he could accept the North’s flag in the South, but added, ”Do you think there is anyone who feels good when they see a North Korean flag?”

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.