Here’s a headline you don’t read every day, and likely will never read again: Double Olympic champion Marcel Hirscher beaten at the Winter Games by two skiers from North Korea.
In an Olympic hare-and-the-tortoise tale, Choe Myong Gwang and Kang Song Il skied super slowly to achieve what Hirscher and 53 other competitors couldn’t: make it down to the finish of the first run in men’s slalom on Thursday.
The legion of North Korean cheerleaders who roared them on with choreographed chants and waves in unison were delighted.
Kang, the only one of the two to stop in the press zone to answer a few questions, seemed pretty pleased with himself, too.
Two South Korean translators struggled to decipher his North Korean accent and words unfamiliar to those in the south _ a language gulf that underscores how divided the Koreas are after more than six decades of hostility and estrangement.
This, they concluded, is what Kang said:
_”I’m not focused only on getting a medal. I came here to follow the better skiers, so I’m going to try my best.”
_“This is my first time in South Korea. This experience was amazing. I hope that one day, we’ll be together.”
_“I’m very happy that North Koreans came here to support me.”
_“I feel like I am at home.”
Granted, not much of a window into his state of mind. But given how rare opportunities are to talk to athletes from North Korea, it felt like a start.
Kang finished last of the 52 skiers who made it to the bottom. He was a whopping 23.71 seconds slower than the first-run leader, Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway.
Choe was just in front of him, in 51st place.
But, unlike Hirscher, who skied off course, at least they got to go again in the second run.