Japan’s Nishiya, 13, Becomes One Of Youngest Gold Medal Winners In Olympic History 

Japan’s Momiji Nishiya celebrates after performing a trick during the skateboarding women’s street final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Sports Park in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. PHOTO: Jeff PACHOUD / AFP

 

Japan’s Momiji Nishiya became one of the youngest individual Olympic champions in history when she won the inaugural women’s skateboarding gold at the age of 13 years and 330 days on Monday.

Nishiya finished ahead of Brazil’s Rayssa Leal — who at 13 years and 203 days could have become the youngest ever individual Olympic champion — and Japan’s Funa Nakayama, 16.

Nishiya starred in the tricks section to score 15.26 and give the hosts a clean sweep of the street discipline as skateboarding makes its Olympic debut.

Her performance mirrored that of Japan teammate Yuto Horigome, who won the men’s title with a stunning sequence of tricks on Sunday.

Japan’s Momiji Nishiya poses with her gold medal during the podium ceremony of the skateboarding women’s street final of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Sports Park in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. PHOTO: Jeff PACHOUD / AFP

 

“I’m so glad to become the youngest (Japanese gold medallist) at my first Olympics… tears came to my eyes,” Nishiya told reporters after receiving her medal.

Skaters each have two 45-second runs on the equipment and five shots at a one-off trick. Their best four scores out of the seven make up their final total.

“I was nervous on the first run but I was not nervous later,” Nishiya said, adding that she wants to claim a second gold at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

But first, to celebrate her victory, she will “go and eat at a beef barbeque restaurant”.

Skateboarding is one of four sports making their debut in Tokyo, along with surfing, sport climbing and karate as part of an attempt to bring the Olympics to younger audiences.

US diver Marjorie Gestring remains the youngest individual Olympic champion after winning the 3m springboard at the 1936 Berlin Games at 13 years and 268 days.

Philippine finalist Margielyn Didal, 22, missed out on a medal but said competing in Tokyo was a “really, really big achievement” for her.

Having started skateboarding a decade ago in the streets of Cebu city, Didal burst onto the scene in 2018 with an Asian Games gold.

Didal said she would call her parents, a carpenter and a street vendor, to hear their reaction.

“I know that they’re proud of me,” she told reporters.

AFP

Defending Champion Murray Out Of Olympics Singles With Injury

Andy Murray of Britain reacts during his men’s singles second round match against Cameron Norrie of Britain at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on October 2, 2019. LEO RAMIREZ / AFP

 

Two-time defending Olympic tennis champion Andy Murray withdrew Sunday from the men’s singles tournament due to a muscle injury, Team GB said in a statement.

Murray, 34, will stay in Tokyo to play doubles with Joe Salisbury. The pair won their opening match of the competition on Saturday.

“I am really disappointed at having to withdraw but the medical staff have advised me against playing in both events, so I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the singles and focus on playing doubles with Joe,” Murray said in a statement.

“The decision follows consultation with medical staff in relation to a quad strain,” it added.

The Scot was scratched from the order of play just hours before he was due to face Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in the first round. He was replaced in the draw by Australia’s Max Purcell.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray is the only player to win two Olympics singles titles. He was bidding for a third successive gold following his victories at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Murray’s career has been blighted by injury in recent years, twice undergoing hip surgery since rising to world number one at the end of 2016.

He recently suffered his earliest Wimbledon exit in 16 years when he was knocked out in the third round by Canada’s Denis Shapovalov.

Murray and Salisbury will play Germany’s Tim Puetz and Kevin Krawietz for a spot in the Olympic men’s doubles quarter-finals after dumping out French second seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the first round.

AFP

Fans Urged To Stay Away From Olympic Marathon Over COVID-19 Fears

A woman stands in front of the Olympic Rings at dusk in Yokohama on July 2, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

 

The public will be urged not to line the route of the Olympic marathon over fears that crowds of fans could spread the coronavirus, Tokyo 2020 organisers said Tuesday.

With less than three weeks before the pandemic-postponed Games begin, concern is growing over a rebound in virus cases in Japan.

“In view of the current Covid-19 situation, it will be necessary to reduce the risk of infection by restricting the movement of members of the public,” organisers said in a statement about the marathon and race walk events.

“It has therefore been decided to ask the public to refrain from spectating along the course.”

The marathon was at the centre of controversy in the original build-up to the 2020 Games, when it was moved to northern Sapporo from Tokyo to avoid the capital’s punishing summer heat.

The women’s and men’s marathon finals are among the last events at this summer’s Games and will take place on August 7 and 8.

At a marathon rehearsal event in Sapporo in May, security guards stood with signs around their necks asking people to “please refrain from watching the race” to prevent infections.

That event had unfolded in a muted atmosphere, with scattered onlookers in facemasks clapping but refraining from cheering, to avoid spreading droplets.

READ ALSO: Philippines Retrieves Crashed Military Plane’s Black Boxes

Organisers on Tuesday vowed to work with local authorities “to ensure a safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games for all participants and for the citizens of Sapporo and Hokkaido”.

But with Covid-19 cases on the rise and fears over the spread of new coronavirus variants, Japan’s government is this week expected to extend virus restrictions in several parts of the country.

The current measures, in place in Tokyo and Sapporo, cap spectators at sports events at 5,000 and limit the opening hours of bars and restaurants.

Japan’s Covid-19 outbreak has not been as severe as in some countries, with around 14,800 deaths, but experts say another wave could stretch medical services as the Olympics begin.

For ticketed Olympic events, Games organisers last month set a limit of 10,000 domestic fans, or half of each venue’s capacity. Overseas fans have already been barred.

But a rise in infections has forced a rethink — with Games president Seiko Hashimoto recently warning that a closed-door Olympics remains an option.

Participants have already begun arriving in Japan, with 11,000 Olympic athletes from around 200 countries set to take part.

On Monday, a Japanese newspaper reported that fans would likely be banned from the July 23 opening ceremony over virus fears, but a reduced number of VIPs and Olympic officials would be able to attend.

AFP

Kenyan Olympic Teams Set For Bubble Training Ahead Of Tokyo

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

Kenya’s Olympic teams are to start training in specialised bubble camps early March in the run-up to the Tokyo games, officials said on Tuesday.

The camps are to start on March 2 and will see athletes confined to specific areas as they train, to counter the spread of Covid-19.

“The athletics long distance runners will be based in the high-altitude training region around Eldoret, while the team sports, including the men’s and women’s rugby Sevens, volleyball and Taekwondo do will be based at the Kasarani stadium,” the secretary-general of Kenya’s National Olympic board Francis Mutuku told AFP.

“The aim of the bubble camps is to cut down the amount of travelling by athletes back to their families from training, and reduce the risk of exposure to the still raging Covid-19 pandemic.”

A total of 87 Kenyan sportsmen and women have already qualified for July’s Tokyo Olympics, with the number expected to increase as the new sporting season gets underway.

Kenya hopes to take a team of 100 athletes to the rescheduled games which will be held between July 23 and August 8.

Mutuku said the athletes would be tested frequently for Covid-19 while they are in the camp, which will be closed off to outsiders.

“All the qualified athletes will be tested before they are admitted into the bubble camp.”

Kenya, a world athletics superpower finished 15th and as the top African nation at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, with a total of 13 medals: six gold, six silver and one bronze.

Kenya also topped the overall medals table at the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing, for the first time in its history with seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals.

Tokyo Olympics Boss Mori To Resign Over Sexist Remarks

 In this file photo taken on February 04, 2021 Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori speaks during a news conference in Tokyo. Mori is set to resign on February 11, 2021, over sexist remarks that have sparked outrage in Japan and abroad, reports said. KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP

 

Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori is to resign after he sparked outrage in Japan and abroad with his claims that women speak too much in meetings, reports said Thursday.

Multiple major Japanese media outlets, citing anonymous sources, said Mori told officials of his wish to step down and intends to announce his resignation at a meeting of Games organisers on Friday.

The sexism row has become yet another headache for Olympic organisers and officials already battling public disquiet over holding the postponed Games this summer amid a global pandemic.

Gaffe-prone Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister, has come under increasing pressure after he said last week that women have trouble speaking concisely.

“When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” he reportedly told members of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

He has apologised for the sexist remarks — but dug a deeper hole when he explained that he “doesn’t speak to women much”.

Officials are considering appointing former football player Saburo Kawabuchi as Mori’s replacement as head of Tokyo 2020, broadcasters TBS and NTV reported.

Kawabuchi is an 84-year-old long-time sports administrator who played a large part in popularising football in Japan in the 1990s, and is involved in the Games as the symbolic mayor of the Olympic Village.

Politicians and sports stars were quick to condemn Mori’s comments, which heavyweight sponsors have also said run contrary to the Olympic spirit.

– Special meeting –
Having initially said it considered the matter closed with Mori’s apology, the International Olympic Committee branded his remarks “completely inappropriate” as the backlash grew.

Tokyo 2020, which will hold a special meeting tomorrow of its council and executive board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At Friday’s meeting, organised in the wake of the sexism row, officials will “express their opinions” on Mori’s remarks and discuss “future gender equality initiatives of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee”, it has said.

An online campaign calling for action against Mori has attracted more than 146,000 signatures, while tennis superstar Naomi Osaka slammed his comments as “ignorant”.

Since Mori’s remarks, around 400 Olympic and Paralympic volunteers have quit, according to Tokyo 2020, which has said the number includes withdrawals for all reasons.

A total of 80,000 volunteers from Japan and overseas have been recruited for this summer’s virus-postponed Games.

Games sponsor Toyota on Wednesday issued a statement by its president Akio Toyoda saying: “It’s very regrettable that the comments made by the leader of the organising committee differ from the values that Toyota holds”

Tokyo’s governor turned up the heat further on Wednesday, saying “I won’t be attending” four-party Olympic talks expected to involve IOC head Thomas Bach later this month.

“I don’t think a four-party meeting would deliver anything positive,” Yuriko Koike said, without further explanation.

AFP

Usain Bolt Goes Viral With ‘Social Distancing’ Olympic Photo

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 16, 2008 shows Jamaica’s Usain Bolt (R) crossing the finish line to win the men’s 100m final at the National stadium as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP.

 

Retired track star Usain Bolt showed he’s still a few steps ahead when he posted an AFP picture of him outstripping his rivals at the Beijing Olympics with the cheeky caption: “social distancing”.

Bolt’s post, featuring a picture by AFP photographer Nicolas Asfouri of the 2008 Olympics 100m final, blew up on social media, drawing more than half a million likes and 90,000 retweets.

It showed the Jamaican crossing the finish line at the Bird’s Nest stadium in a then-world record time of 9.69sec, glancing round from lane four as his despairing competitors trail two paces behind.

“Savage”, commented one Twitter user, while New York Times journalist Christopher Clarey posted another picture of Bolt out in front on his own, captioned “self isolation”.

Bolt’s chest-thumping celebration in Beijing added to a legend that grew further when he won the 200m in another world-record time. He retired in 2017 with eight Olympic gold medals and the current 100m mark of 9.58sec, set in 2009.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: IMF Approves Debt Relief For 25 Poor Countries

Bolt, 33, has been encouraging Jamaicans to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic, posting videos of himself exercising at home and juggling footballs with a friend. He also helped promote a major fundraiser, Telethon Jamaica.

After retiring from athletics, Bolt, a Manchester United fan, attempted to launch a career in football, and had a trial with Australia’s Central Coast Mariners before contract talks failed.

IOC Urged To Make Quick Olympic Decision As US Backs Postponement

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. The global sporting calendar has been swept away by the coronavirus pandemic but the International Olympic Committee has insisted the Tokyo Games will go ahead in four months despite growing calls for a postponement.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

The International Olympic Committee came under pressure to speed up its decision about postponing the Tokyo Games on Tuesday as athletes criticised the four-week deadline and the United States joined calls to delay the competition.

After Canada and Australia withdrew their teams, with the world hunkering down for the coronavirus pandemic, the US Olympic committee said postponement was the best way forward.

A growing group of national Olympic committees and sports bodies including World Athletics have called for the Games, set to start on July 24, to be pushed back, an outcome that now appears inevitable.

IOC officials are studying a postponement, among other options, but still believe a decision would be “premature” four months from the scheduled start. They will make an announcement within four weeks.

“My interpretation of the IOC’s communications is they don’t want to cancel, and they don’t think they can continue with the July 24 date,” senior IOC official Dick Pound told AFP.

“So you’re looking at the ‘P’ word — postponement.”

IOC president Thomas Bach, Japanese leader Shinzo Abe, Tokyo’s governor and the head of the organising committee will hold telephone talks later on Tuesday as the fate of the Games hangs in the balance.

The US Olympic team came out in favour of postponement after a survey of 1,780 US athletes found an overwhelming majority, 68 percent, backed delaying the Games.

The virus lockdown has shut down competition, including Olympic qualifiers, and made training not just difficult but also dangerous, as athletes risk contracting or spreading COVID-19.

– ‘Unacceptable, irresponsible’ –

Several countries have imposed strict stay-at-home orders and international travel has been drastically curtailed as worldwide deaths surge past 16,500 and confirmed cases surpass 378,000.

“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said.

USA Gymnastics also said it was “adding our voice to the chorus advocating for postponement”, after USA Swimming and USA Track and Field had already urged the US Olympic committee to press for a delay.

Meanwhile, British Olympic Association chairman Hugh Robertson told Sky Sports News: “If the virus continues as predicted by the government, I don’t think there is any way we can send a team.”

With opposition to the July start reaching deafening levels, athletes questioned why the IOC needed weeks to come to a decision. The Olympic torch relay is due to start in Japan on Thursday.

“Such a response is unacceptable, irresponsible, and once again ignores the rights of athletes,” Global Athlete, an organisation which aims to speak for sports competitors, said in a statement.

British cyclist Callum Skinner strongly criticised IOC president Bach, accusing him of placing his own interests first.

“Bach’s stubbornness and arrogance has spectacularly failed in this instance and he has weakened the Olympic movement,” Skinner wrote on Twitter.

“This isn’t the first time he has put his own motives above the athletes and the movement.”

– ‘Dither and delay’ –

British hurdler Dai Greene said the “dither and delay” was “obscene” while Ed Warner, the chairman-designate of British wheelchair rugby, said the IOC had misjudged the mood.

“The IOC has said it will make a decision in four weeks,” he told the Guardian. “It hasn’t got that long. It probably has only got four days.”

World Athletics said it was prepared to shift its world championships, scheduled for August 6-15 next year in Oregon, to accommodate a potential Olympics next summer, seen as the most likely option.

But experts warn that shifting the Tokyo Games, which are seven years in the planning and have a price tag of $12.6 billion, is no simple matter.

“It is mind-bogglingly complex to make a sudden change after seven years of preparation for the biggest sporting event in the world,” Michael Payne, the IOC’s former head of marketing, told AFP.

AFP

COVID-19: World Athletics Chief Calls For Olympics Postponement

World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe has called for the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, written before Sunday’s IOC meeting, Coe said holding the Games in July 2020 was “neither feasible nor desirable” because of the global crisis.

“Whilst we all know that different parts of the world are at different stages of the virus, the unanimous view across all our areas is that an Olympic Games in July this year is neither feasible nor desirable,” Coe said in his letter.

READ ALSO: Moscow Elderly Told To Stay Home Or Escape Virus In Countryside

Canada has already pulled out of the Games and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted a delay may be “inevitable”.

The IOC said a decision should come within weeks.

AFP

Libya Stun U-23 Eagles In Olympic Games Qualifier

Libya Stun U-23 Eagles In Olympic Games Qualifier
A file photo of U-23 Eagles during a training session at the Ben Guerdane Stadium in Tunisia on March 19, 2019. Photo: [email protected]

 

Libya stunned Nigeria’s U-23 Eagles 2-0 Wednesday in the first leg of a 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games second round qualifier.

Montenegro-based Zakaria Alharaish scored after six and 69 minutes in a match moved from Libya to Ben Guerdane in neighbouring Tunisia for security reasons.

Nigeria, who are former gold medallists, suffered a major blow just before half-time when goalkeeper Adamu Abubakar was sent off for handling outside the box.

The teams meet again on Monday in Asaba with Nigeria, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics champions, seeking to avoid a shock early exit.

Olympic qualifiers are restricted to under-23 footballers with three over-age players permitted at recent finals.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, a strong football nation but with a poor age-limit competitions record, built a 2-0 home lead over Morocco in Kinshasa thanks to Jackson Muleka.

The striker from the top Congolese club, TP Mazembe, put the home side ahead just before half-time and netted again midway through the second half.

DR Congo have never qualified for an Olympics football tournament while Morocco have achieved the feat seven times, most recently for the 2012 London Games.

Sudan were another country to build a 2-0 first-leg lead at home, against highly rated Kenya in Omdurman, with in-form Waleed Bakhet bagging a brace.

Bakhet has played a pivotal role in Al Hilal reaching the CAF Confederation Cup quarter-finals, scoring six goals.

He struck after 33 and 60 minutes, leaving Kenya needing to score at least twice in Nairobi when the teams meet again on Tuesday.

Guinea edged Senegal 2-1 in a showdown between western African neighbours with Morlaye Sylla snatching the winning goal three minutes into the second half in Conakry.

Jules Keita had converted a Guinean penalty after 34 minutes and Ibrahima Ndiaye equalised four minutes later with a potentially crucial away goal for the Senegalese.

Zambia look set to secure a place among the qualifiers for the third round during June after building a 1-0 lead away to Malawi in Blantyre.

Fashion Sakala scored after 77 minutes and Zambia need only draw the return match in Lusaka this Sunday to progress.

There were two 0-0 draws, between Burundi and Congo Brazzaville in Bujumbura and surprise qualifiers South Sudan and Tunisia in Juba.

Africa has been allocated three places for Tokyo and Cameroon, winners of the 2000 Sydney gold medals, are already through to the third round after Sierra Leone were disqualified.

AFP

Ambitious China Seek Hiddink’s Help To Fulfil Olympic Hopes

Dutch coach Guus Hiddink (file)

 

Highly respected Dutch coach Guus Hiddink looks poised to take on a leading role in China’s aggressive push to finally become a force in international football.

The 71-year-old was pictured this week — glasses perched on his nose and taking notes — watching China’s under-21 side beat Myanmar 1-0 at home, amid reports that he is set to be formally appointed coach to lead the team into the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

When confirmed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA), the former Dutch national team manager will join another well-known veteran, the Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, in China’s coaching set-up.

The 70-year-old Lippi has been in charge of the senior side since 2016 and overseen a steady improvement, although China still failed to reach the World Cup in Russia and languish at 75th in the FIFA rankings.

“Although the Chinese Football Association has not officially announced it, the famous coach Hiddink has begun to enter the role of head coach,” the state Xinhua news agency said, noting that he remained in the stands during the under-21s’ win over Myanmar on Tuesday.

Soccer News said that Hiddink — whose last job was a caretaker spell at Chelsea in 2015-2016 — met the players before the game.

The Dutchman will be paid just less than four million euros ($4.7 million) a year after tax, Chinese media have said.

He is being brought in as the Tokyo 2020 Games loom into view and as the Chinese government pushes an ambitious agenda to ramp up football from grassroots all the way to the senior team.

Like Lippi, Hiddink comes with a wealth of experience at club and international level.

In addition to his two emergency stints at Chelsea, he also coached Real Madrid, PSV Eindhoven and Valencia, among others.

Hiddink is perhaps best known for inspiring co-hosts South Korea to a shock semi-final spot at the 2002 World Cup.

AFP

Olympic Hockey Champ Warns Of Mental Pressures For Elite Athletes

In this file photo taken on August 15, 2016 Britain’s Helen Richardson-Walsh (C) celebrates a goal during the women’s quarterfinal field hockey Britain vs Spain match of the Rio 2016 Olympics Games at the Olympic Hockey Centre in Rio de Janeiro.
Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

 

British hockey star Helen Richardson-Walsh — who battled back from depression to win an Olympic gold medal in Rio — says young athletes need help to manage the pressures that come with top-level sport.

Richardson-Walsh, 36, said young, ambitious elite sportsmen and women may be unaware of the incessant and challenging demands they will face.
“Transition into sport is equally if not more important than making transition out,” she told a panel in London discussing athletes and their mental health.

“Young people coming now into professional sports is difficult. You go from being someone enjoying sport and doing it because you love it to suddenly being in this environment with the pressure and expectations.”

Richardson-Walsh, who became the youngest woman to represent Britain in hockey at an Olympics at the age of 18, says it is almost impossible to switch off.

“When I woke up in the morning I had to put a heart monitor on my finger before I had breakfast,” she said.

“It told me how many hours I had slept. For breakfast the question was ‘what am I going to eat?’ not ‘what do I want to eat?’.

“The young may want so much to think about being an athlete but it is 24/7, you don’t go to get home at five, job done. You have to think about everything you have to do. Transitioning into that is a big thing.”

Richardson-Walsh, who has competed at four Olympics, has struggled with bouts of depression and wrote a blog documenting her struggles in 2014.

‘Tools’

The hockey player, who was helped by her wife Kate, also a team-mate, says she has even questioned part of the legacy of the Olympic success.

“After Rio and London I visited schools and lots of young girls who suddenly wanted to be a hockey player,” she said.

“Initially I thought for them that is great as it is a pathway to a potential career opportunity but then on the other side I thought ‘ah, actually is that a good thing?’. How early do you decide you want to do that?”

Shameema Yousuf, who works as a psychologist for young players at Premier League side Brighton, says it is important to reach aspiring elite athletes as early as possible.

“I think that is key if we give youth the tools and build their awareness up at that age,” said Yousuf, referring to the 10-16 age group at the club.

“Then they are better able to identify and manage themselves at an older age in an environment where stresses will be different at competition level.

“However, they will have that self-awareness of ‘I am actually going through something and need to go and speak to someone’.”

Richard Bryan, rugby director for the Rugby Players’ Association, with responsibility for welfare services and programmes, says he has observed an interesting change in players coming forward to admit they are battling with mental health issues.

“There is a possible start of a trend among the players who are accessing our confidential hotline,” he said.

“The largest age group last year was 18-25 whereas a couple of years previously it was the over-30s.

“It will be interesting to see if that continues for it suggests those that are coming into the professional system, perhaps work is being done through schools or it is a generational difference and people are more open to talking about issues they are facing.”

Trump’s Daughter, Ivanka And North Korean General To Attend Olympic Closing

Advisor to US President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, is seen during a working session regarding “opportunity zones” following the recently signed tax bill in the Oval Office of the White House on February 14, 2018 in Washington, DC.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka will come face-to-face with a top North Korean general at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony in the South this weekend, it emerged Thursday.

The Pyeongchang Games have become a venue for geopolitics as much as sports as the nuclear-armed North mounts a charm offensive analysts say is intended to loosen the sanctions regime against it and weaken the alliance between Seoul and Washington.

Leader Kim Jong Un dispatched his sister Kim Yo Jong to the opening ceremony — which US Vice President Mike Pence also attended — and during her visit she extended an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to come to a summit in Pyongyang.

The family connections will be reversed at Sunday’s closing ceremony.

The White House said Donald Trump had asked his eldest daughter — who is also one of his top advisers — to travel to Pyeongchang to lead up a “high level delegation”.

The 36-year-old businesswoman and former model will be joined by press secretary Sarah Sanders and is going in part because “she is something of a winter sports enthusiast”, an official said.

The North will send an eight-member delegation Sunday headed by Kim Yong Chol, a top general who oversees inter-Korean relations for the ruling Workers’ Party, Seoul’s unification ministry said in a statement.

Kim Yong Chol’s presence is a demonstration of how Pyongyang is testing the limits of the multiple different sanctions imposed on it over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

The general is blacklisted under Seoul’s unilateral sanctions against the North — meaning he is subject to an assets freeze — although he is not named in the UN Security Council’s measures.

He is believed to have once led the North’s spying agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and to have ordered a deadly torpedo attack on the South’s corvette Cheonan in 2010 that left 46 sailors dead.

Seoul blamed the North for the attack but Pyongyang denied involvement.

South Korea’s defence ministry has also linked him to the shelling of its Yeonpyeong island the same year, which killed four people.

 Moon dinner 

The Games have seen a flurry of cross-border visits and diplomacy on the habitually tense peninsula, where strains were racked up last year as the North conducted a battery of weapons tests and its leader Kim Jong Un exchanged personal insults and threats of war with Trump.

Moon — who did not immediately accept the invitation to go to the North — has been trying to use what Seoul promotes as a “peace Olympics” to defuse tensions and open a door for dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.

But at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, Kim Yo Jong sat just a few seats away from US Vice President Mike Pence, who did not exchange a word with her at any point.

Pence had earlier denounced the North’s “murderous regime”, and according to US officials the North Koreans later cancelled a meeting that had been scheduled for the day after the Games’ opening.

Ivanka Trump is scheduled to have dinner with Moon on Friday, and Yonhap news agency cited the presidential Blue House as saying he was also likely to meet Pyongyang’s delegation during its three-day trip.

But a senior administration official ruled out any possible meeting between Ivanka and officials from North Korea, and a Seoul government source also said such an encounter was unlikely.

Pyongyang has used the Games to try to soften its image in the international community and push for talks with Seoul — which would lessen the possibility of a US military strike, touted as an option by Trump administration officials.

But North-South discussions would have a limited impact on wider tensions, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert and a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul.

“The major problem is between North Korea and the United States,” he told AFP. “Therefore, no amount of talks between North and the South… is going to change anything significantly.”

Washington has sought to project resolve in the face of a growing threat from the North — which has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and last year carried out its most powerful nuclear blast to date.

The US insists it will persist with its campaign of “maximum pressure and engagement”, and has repeatedly sought to underscore the importance of a troubled alliance with Seoul.

AFP