PYEONGCHANG: Olympic chief Thomas Bach dismissed concerns North Korea had tried to “hijack” the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Monday as the unified Korean ice hockey team saw their hopes dashed after another heavy defeat.
On a day when strong winds caused a series of falls in the women’s slopestyle snowboarding final and forced the women’s giant slalom to be postponed, Bach said he hoped the Games had paved the way for greater peace on the Korean peninsula.
Bach, who will visit Pyongyang after the Olympics, said the North’s high-profile participation was a strictly sporting matter, playing down fears that the isolated country was manipulating the Games to suit its political agenda.
“This is about sport and this the IOC made very clear,” Bach said in an interview. “This is about the role of sport to build bridges, to open doors and nothing more.
“It’s just a symbol for sport and it’s a symbol for the fact that when you go over these bridges you can come to a positive result.”
Later, the unified Korean women’s hockey team suffered their second straight 8-0 defeat — this time against Sweden — to end their chances of a medal, not that it deterred the ever-present North Korean cheering squad.
North and South Korea marched together in the opening ceremony, while Seoul leader Moon Jae-in was invited to Pyongyang during a rapid round of diplomacy in recent days.
However, some South Koreans are sceptical about the sudden rapprochement, while US Vice-President Mike Pence said North Korea was trying to “hijack the message and imagery” of the Olympics.
Elsewhere on a busy day three, heavyweights Canada won their first gold of the Games in the team figure skating, while the Olympic Athletes from Russia took silver.
Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier won biathlon’s 10km pursuit for her second victory in Pyeongchang, before French army officer Martin Fourcade clinched the men’s 12.5km pursuit.
Speed skater Ireen Wust won the women’s 1,500m to become the first Dutch athlete to win five Olympic gold medals, eclipsing track and field legend Fanny Blankers-Koen.
And Norway’s Maren Lundby won a dramatic women’s normal hill ski jump competition when she eclipsed German Katharina Althaus and Japan’s Sara Takanashi with the last jump of the night.
But angry snowboarders lashed out at organisers after the women’s slopestyle final was held in heavy gusts, causing nearly every competitor to take a tumble.
It came after the women’s giant slalom, featuring America’s Mikaela Shiffrin, was postponed until Thursday because of the wind — a day after the men’s downhill suffered the same fate.
While the skiing was postponed, the slopestyle went ahead with near-farcical results, as athlete after athlete hit the deck including gold medal-winner Jamie Anderson.
“The weather was bad and too dangerous,” said bronze medallist Enni Rukajarvi, while Austria’s Anna Gasser added: “So many people got hurt because of the wind.”
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018