Swimmer set to be first North Korean competitor at the Paralympic Games


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The Independent Online

A 17-year-old swimmer is set to become North Korea's first ever competitor at the Paralympic Games.

Rim Ju Song, from Pyongyang, took part in a qualification event in Berlin at the weekend, and has been awarded a wildcard by the International Paralympic Committee to compete at the games in London in August.

Mr Ju Song will be the only North Korean competitor at the games, in any sport, and his entry is has been hailed as a diplomatic triumph after the British Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, stepped in to assist the swimmer in his quest to make the games.

Mr Ju Song's coach, Jin Cheng Zhe, told The Independnet the British Embassy had “provided financial support.” “They paid for us to travel to Berlin for the swimming competition. He is now finally able to swim in London.”

Mr Ju Song does not speak any English but his coach said he was “very happy, very pleased, and very excited” to be taking part in the games.

A British Embassy spokesperson said they had been trying for some time to help get North Korean competitors into the games, but a lack of experience and funds has been a significant obstacle, in a country where disabled sport has virtually no profile.

Mr Ju Song's lost his left arm and left leg, and suffered significant injuries to his right leg and foot in an accident on a construction site when he was five years old.

He will now compete in the S6 category in freestyle swimming, and the SB5 category in breast stroke.

Mr Ju Song and his coach have now returned home, via Beijing. “Before the London Games he has to do intensive training,” Mr Cheng Zhe said. “We are looking at the possiblity of training in Pyongyang or in China.”

“Of course we are not expecting too much because he's pretty young, and he hasn't had time for very much training yet.”

Several North Korean athletes have qualified for the Olympics, including the women's football team, who will play France, Colombia and the USA. The country has three competitors, two women and a man in the 10 metre platform diving compeittion, and ten table tennis players. At the Beijing Games, Pak Hyon Suk won gold in the women's 63kg weightlifting class, and Hong un Jong won gold in the women's vault. The country's Olympic commission has not confirmed which athletes, if any, it will be sending to these competitions this time round.

The country's new leader Kim Jong Un, son of Kim Jong Il, who died last year, is unlikely to be one of the 120 world dignitaries and heads of state expected to attend the opening ceremony, but reports earlier this year indicate he has offered some assistance, touring a bullet factory and shooting range to offer guidance as to how his country's sporting marksmen could become more successful.