Pyongyang — 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.
Ju Song will be the only North Korean competitor at the games, in any sport, and his entry 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.
Ju Song’s coach, Jin Cheng Zhe, said 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.”
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.
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.
Several North Korean athletes have qualified for the Olympics, including the women’s football team, who will play France, Colombia and the US. The country has three competitors, two women and a man in the 10 metre platform diving competition, and ten table tennis players. At the Beijing Games, Pak Hyon Suk won gold in the women’s 63kg weight lifting 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.