Defector shot crossing DMZ
Video footage of Defector Shot While Crossing border

Only months before the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, two North Korean soldiers crossed the highly secure demilitarized zone (DMZ) that maintains the nervous peace between South and North. That makes for a total of 4 soldier defections in 2017, compared with two over the previous four years.

On December 21, 2017 a North Korean soldier took advantage of a very thick fog to walk across the border.

More dramatically, on November 13, 2017, a soldier raced to the border in a jeep. Just prior to the border, the defector’s jeep got stuck in a grassy area, forcing the soldier to get out and run, just as North Korean soldiers with rifles appear on foot, firing at the 19-year old defector, and into South Korea. Shot four times but falling in South Korea territory, the defector was dragged to safety by South Korean soldiers.

 

Clearly, it is very hard to cross the DMZ from North into South. More importantly, only soldiers have access to the North-South border areas, so the general population has very little chance to cross there.

The majority of defectors from North Korea go north to China or Russia. Since 1953 and the end of the Korean War, it is estimated that anywhere from 100- to 300,000 North Koreans have defected overall. Russia has about 10,000, many who have escaped the logging camps in North Korea. China may have as many as 30- to 50,000 North Koreans blending into Chinese society. The majority of those defectors are women, who marry Chinese men, settling into a quiet life in order to avoid being arrested by authorities and deported back to likely punishment in North Korea.

Thousands of others have made the journey down to the southern part of China where they make their way Laos and Thailand, or through Mongolia, assuming that they can avoid the clutches of Chinese authorities ready to send them back.

North Korean boat washes up in Akita
Eight bodies found as second suspected North Korean boat washes up in Akita Prefecture

Japan has also been a destination since the late 1980s. North Koreans make their journey over 400 miles across the Sea of Japan to Aomori, Fukui or the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa. On November 27, 2017, a wooden boat in poor condition washed up on the shore of Akita, in the northern part of Japan. Eight bodies, thought to be North Korean defectors, were found inside the boat. Only the week before, eight men from North Korea arrived on Japanese soil by boat, alive. In fact, in 2017, 44 boats from North Korea have made it to Japan this year.

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President Thomas Bach
IOC President Thomas Bach
In July, 2015, there were only two cities vying for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. Just 10 months before, Oslo, Norway, the host of the 1952 Winter Olympics, pulled out of the running. Sochi a year before famously cost $50 billion, and the Norwegian government was expecting the cost for their city to be billions more than they had an appetite for.

That left Almaty, a city generally unknown, and Beijing, a well-known city that gets very little snow.

With the ugly photos coming out of Rio de Janeiro of the crumbling Olympic infrastructure after only some 7 months, more and more city denizens and governments are convinced they don’t want an Olympics in their metropolis. In fact, Budapest, Hungary, which submitted a strong bid for the 2024 Summer Games, withdrew its bid a week ago on March 1.

So like the 2022 bid, now there are only two for the 2024 Games.

This must be causing considerable heartburn for leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The bidding process has resulted not in a celebration of city pride with the hopes of bringing the biggest sports tent their way, but in opportunities for large numbers of people to publicly and loudly proclaim their disenchantment, if not diffidence with having the Olympics in their back yard.

Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Fortunately, the 2024 has two solid prospects: Los Angeles and Paris. As Tim Crow writes in this great article, “And Then There Were Two“,

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

So, as Crow extrapolates, if the president of the IOC wants to avoid further embarrassment of the citizens of the Great Cities open scorn, at least for a while, he may encourage his fellow leaders to decide the next two Olympic hosts when the IOC meet in Lima, Peru in September, 2017. As has been gossiped about for the past several months, Crow believes the IOC will select either Paris or LA for 2024, and the other one for 2028. By so doing, that would guarantee great Summer Olympic hosts throughout the 2020s, as well as avoid unwanted anti-Olympic discussion that would most certainly lead up to the 2028 process, that is currently scheduled for 2021.

Crow also speculates that the IOC may award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris, and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles. Here are the three reasons why:

  • One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
  • Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
  • But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

That last one is the tricky one. Can the Olympics be saved for the next generation?

Rio Medals Table sans Russia

A little less than two weeks prior to the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the IOC made a fateful decision. A report from the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended that all Russian athletes be banned from international competition, including the Olympic Summer Games. The IOC, which had the final say, chose to defer judgment on eligibility for Olympic participation to the various international sports federations. While the international track and field organization, IAAF, had decided much earlier to ban the entire Russian track and field team, many other federations chose to allow the Russians to compete. In the end, 278 Russians were cleared, while 111 were ruled ineligible.

At the end of the Olympic Summer Games on August 21, Russia had tallied the fourth highest number of gold medals (19) and total medals (56), behind the USA, China and Great Britain. Russia finished ahead of Germany, France and Japan.

But what would have happened if all Russian athletes were banned from the Rio Games as WADA had recommended?

  1. Would the medal tables have changed significantly?
  2. Would any individual or team have won for their country a medal in a specific category for the first time?
  3. Would any nation have won its first medal of any kind, ever?

Would the medal tables have changed significantly? The answer to the first question is no. if the Russians had to give back all of their 56 medals, around 30 nations would be getting additional medals. America could have added two medals but they were already 50 medals ahead of China. China was actually impacted the most by Russia’s presence, as they could have had as many as another 7 bronze medals without the Russians in the mix. But that would still have left them far behind the US in the overall medal race.

Italy may have felt the pain considerably. Like the Chinese, they lost out potentially on as many as 7 bronze medals in a wide variety of sporting areas. Azerbaijan potentially lost out on 5 bronze medals, if not for the Russians.

Of course, these are guestimates I’ve made based on what individuals or teams came in fourth. Complicating matters, in sports like judo or wrestling or boxing you have at least two people each tied for third and fourth. In the case of the men’s lightweight boxing tournament, there were four people who finished just below one of the bronze medalists, a Russian. Who knows who would have actually gotten the bronze without Vitaly Dunaytsev in Rio?

Dipa Karmaker
India’s first Olympic gymnast, Dipa Karmaker
Would any nation have won its first medal in a specific category? The answer to the second question is yes. Dipa Karmaker is a female gymnast from India, and her score of 15.966 in the individual vault competition left her 0.15 points behind Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland. If silver medalist, Maria Paseka of Russia, had her medal revoked, Steingruber, Switzerland’s first gymnast to win a medal of any kind, would be awarded a silver medal. Her bronze medal would go to Karmaker, who is the first ever Indian to compete as a gymnast in the Olympics, and could possibly have been the first to win a gymnastics medal if the Russians were not allowed to compete.

Would any nation have won its first medal of any kind, ever? The answer to the third question is yes: two countries could have finally broken the high-performance glass ceiling with a bronze medal.

If not for Russia, Cameroon could have taken home a bronze in women’s freestyle wrestling (75kg). Annabelle Ali, Cameroon’s flag bearer in the 2012 Games, tied with Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Belarus one notch below the Russian Ekaterina Bukina.

Additionally, Mauritius could have experienced its first medal. Kennedy St Pierre was one of four heavyweight boxers to place fifth at Rio. If Evgeny Tishchenko were not in Rio, a favored boxer would have been out of the competition. Who knows who would have beaten whom? Out of 8 quarterfinalists, four get medals, so St Pierre’s chances would have increased significantly if the Russian was not in the ring. Yes, you can say that for the other competitors, but for Mauritius, it would have been party time if St Pierre brought home the bronze.

Kennedy St-Pierre
Mauritius’ Kennedy St-Pierre beat Algeria’s Chouaib Bouloudinats
Japan Times, October 17, 1964
Japan Times, October 17, 1964

Communist China didn’t enter the Olympics until 1984 in Los Angeles, but they entered the nuclear race 20 years earlier in Olympic fashion.

The Tokyo Games began on October 10, 1964. Six days into the competition, on Friday, October 16, China exploded an atomic bomb. While the Chinese government released a statement promising never to be the first to use a nuclear weapon, this atomic test did not diminish the shock and fear that reverberated globally. On top of that, Japan being relatively close to mainland China, there were immediate concerns of radiation fall out in Japan.china's atomic bomb test

The ability for high performance athletes to focus is