Recapping North Korea's epic fail of a Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

If sports didn’t matter at the Winter Olympics, North Korea could count its time in PyeongChang as a raging success. In a matter of weeks, Pyongyang managed to launch King Jong-un’s sister into international celebrity, engage in kimchi diplomacy with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, turn a crop of creepily synchronized cheerleaders into a heavily covered curiosity and make United States Vice President Mike Pence look like a goober (not that he needs any help with that).

As far as actual athletic competition is concerned, though, the North, which wrapped up its schedule on Thursday, made falling flat on one’s face seem like a glorious outcome compared to what its entrants achieved.

The DPRK’s best finish came courtesy of figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, who finished 13th out of 16 in pairs free skating. They were the only North Koreans to qualify on their own merits, but needed a political push nonetheless after administrators in the North neglected to register them on time.

Elsewhere on the ice, things didn’t turn out any better for Jong Kwang-bom and Choe Un-song. They finished last in their respective 500- and 1,500-meter heats. The 16-year-old Jong — the 33rd entrant in a 32-person field — was ultimately disqualified for attempting to take down Japan’s Ryosuke Sakazume.

Jong Kwang Bom of North Korea crashes during their men’s 500 meters short track speedskating heat in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

That may still count as better diplomacy than what became of the unified Korean women’s hockey team. The squad, coached by Minnesota native Sarah Murray, lost its first two matches by scores of 8-0 and finished with just two goals scored against 28 allowed in five outings.

Out on the slopes, Alpine skier Kim Ryon-hyang finished dead-last in women’s slalom (54th out of 54) and giant slalom (67th out of 67). Choe Myong-gwang would’ve done the same in men’s giant slalom had fellow countryman Kang Song-il not assumed that spot in the 75-person field. Choe, though, brought up the rear in Thursday’s slalom after Kang didn’t complete his second run.

Cross country skiing was slightly more forgiving for the North Koreans. On the women’s side, Ri Yong-gum wound up 89th out of 90 in the 10-kilometer free race. In men’s competition, Han Chun-gyong and Pak Il-chol checked in 101st and 107th, respectively, in a field of 116 in the 15-kilometer free race.

North Korea’s Ri Yong-gum finishes 89th out of 90 in the women’s 10-kilometer free race at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Thus, the DPRK’s 22-athlete contingent will head back across the 38th parallel without a single medal to add to the two — a silver in speed skating and a bronze in short-track speed skating — it’s earned across nine Winter Olympics appearances dating back to Innsbruck in 1964.

But before they do, the North Koreans will march in Sunday’s Closing Ceremony while an allegedly murderous general looks on as the titular head of its diplomatic contingent.

Which, in Kim Jong-un’s mind, might be more of a win than any medal could possibly confer.

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