North Korea will not be the only nation leaving the Pyeongchang Olympics without a medal, but they are one of the few minnows of winter sports to have earned rousing cheers wherever they go.
When 25-year-old alpine skier Kim Ryon Hyang glided down the mountain in the women’s slalom to take last place, North Korean cheerleaders led the crowd in a warm ovation.
The diminutive Kim beamed after the race, taking photos with fans and waving excitedly to the crowd.
The cheerleaders, outnumbering the nation’s athletic team by 10 to one, have been a fixture wherever North Korea’s 22 athletes have competed.
They were particularly vocal when North Korean players joined South Koreans in a unified women’s ice hockey team, the first joint North-South team to compete at any Olympics.
The team’s head coach, Canadian Sarah Murray, played six of the 12 North Korean players in all five games. Only one, Kim Un Hyang, played in every one.
Figure skating pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, the only North Koreans to qualify for the Games was the nation’s best hope.
The others were given wildcard entries, part of South Korea’s diplomatic efforts to re-engage with the North.
The pair ranked 13th out of 16 teams, outperforming South Korean pair Kim Kyu-eun and Kam Alex Kang-chan.
“There remains lots of things to do … It seem that we still lack experience and guts. We will do better,” Kim Ju Sik told reporters.
Meanwhile, the governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, where PyeongChang is located, said he was considering a bid to co-host the 2021 Asian Winter Games (AWG) with North Korea.
“We will start the process (for a feasibility review) soon after the PyeongChang Winter Games,” Gov. Choi Moon-soon said at a press conference in Gangneung, a sub-host city of the PyeongChang Winter Games.
The governor said the plan would enable “a better utilisation of the infrastructure of PyeongChang after the Games and continued inter-Korean exchanges and reconciliation through sports.”
As for the Games’ venues, Choi said he was considering the PyeongChang Olympics facilities and the Masikryong Ski Resort on the outskirts of the eastern city of Wonsan in North Korea.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has been aspiring to develop Wonsan as a lavish sports tourism attraction.
The two Koreas engaged in a flurry of sports diplomacy which led to North Korea’s participation in the first Winter Games in the South.
The communist country sent 22 athletes and hundreds of others to PyeongChang.
Earlier this month, before the opening of the Games, South Korean and North Korean skiers held joint training at the Masikryong resort.
“We see that the mood is ripe enough for the two Koreas to pursue a joint bid to host a winter sports event.
“This is more so that the foundation for inter-Korean exchanges has been laid by the PyeongChang Games, and the resolve of the current administration and the international community to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula has become clear,” he said.
AWG is an international multi-sport event held every four years for members of the Olympic Council of Asia and features winter competitions.
Its eighth edition was held in Sapporo, Japan, in February last year.
The host of the 2021 event will be decided at the 2018 Asian Summer Games hosted by the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang in August.