PyeongChang (South Korea), March 11 (IANS) North Korean para athletes have officially made their Winter Paralympics debut here as two sit skiers competed in the men’s cross-country skiing event on Sunday.
Kim Jong-hyon and Ma Yu-chol competed in the men’s 15-km sitting cross-country skiing event at the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics at Alpensia Biathlon Centre in PyeongChang, some 180 kms east of Seoul, reports Yonhap news agency.
The two North Koreans were the bottom two finishers among the 27 competitors who completed the race. Ma took 26th with a time of 1 hour, 4 minutes, 57.3 seconds, while Kim finished last at 1:12.49.9. Kim’s time was more than 30 minutes longer than Maksym Yarovyi of Ukraine who clocked 41:37.0.
Kim and Ma became the first two North Koreans to compete at the Winter Paralympics. Until PyeongChang 2018, North Korea had only appeared at two Summer Paralympics: London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016.
The two were able to participate in the 12th Winter Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) gave a special invitation to North Korea.
North Korea sent a 24-member delegation, with six athletes, to PyeongChang, but excluding Kim and Ma, four others came here as observers.
At the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, North Korean athletes were joined by a cheering squad from their country. Although North Korea did not send cheerleaders to the Winter Paralympics, they were still welcomed by South Korean spectators, who waved the Korean Unification Flag — a blue Korean Peninsula against a white background.
After finishing their race, Kim and Ma were seen waving to the spectators in the stand. They, however, didn’t answer reporters’ questions in the mixed zone on how they feel about their Winter Paralympics experience.
The two para cross-country skiers will compete in one more event — the men’s 1.1 km sprint sitting — at the same venue on Wednesday before they return to North Korea the next day.
Kim, 17, is a student at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang and was the flagbearer of North Korea at the opening ceremony for the PyeongChang Paralympics.
Ma, 27, visited South Korea as he competed in table tennis at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon. At the opening ceremony on Friday, he carried the Paralympic torch together with South Korean para skier Choi Bo-gue.
Kim and Ma started cross-country skiing in December 2017. Both suffered impairments to their lower limbs in car accidents.