The fear is palpable.

As mentioned in a post previously, France, Austria and Germany are giving serious consideration to not attending the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea due to concerns of North Korean terrorism, or even North Korean ballistic missiles launched during the Games.

The aggressive tone of words exchanged recently between the leaders of North Korea and the United States have done little to calm the nerves of South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese alike, let alone athletes expecting to attend the Games that start on February 9.

So how do you solve a problem like Korea?

Well, if they join you, they can’t beat you.

Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik
Ryom Tae-Ok (left) and Kim Ju-Sik (right)

On September 29, Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, performed well enough at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Obertsdorf, Germany, which also served as a qualifying event for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. As the New York Times explained, the pair took sixth place in the tournament, but “more important, they finished third among a subset of pairs from countries seeking five available Olympic spots.

In other words, they didn’t necessarily squeak in, or get favorable treatment to earn a spot.

While the final decision is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to approve their entry to the Olympics, they have up till now funded the pair’s training in Canada, under Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte. It would be hard to imagine the North Korean OC deciding not to give the go ahead after training these promising skaters overseas, seeing them improve significantly from their top 15 finish at the world championships last year, to cracking what is arguably the top ten in the world.

If Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik and other North Korean athletes and coaches are in PyoengChang next February, that may put the athletes, coaches and officials of other countries at ease. The thinking of some is that the North Korean leader may be less likely to attack South Korea if he is cheering on his countrymen and women south of the border, according to the New York Times.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy to have them there,” said Ted Ligety, a two-time gold medalist in Alpine skiing from the United States.

“North Korea is my biggest worry,” Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, where the 2018 Olympics will take place, said in a recent interview. “It’s not because of North Korea making an impact on the Olympics, it’s that if North Korea can participate, then it will make a great contribution for our goal of hosting a Peace Olympics, and it will be a great selling point.”

Will other North Koreans qualify? Will the IOC and the various international sports federations ease up the standards to allow borderline North Korean athletes to compete? Will it matter?

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cat-and-mouse-1

It’s a cat and mouse game, the chemists on the side of the cheaters, and the chemists on the side of the authorities. And like hackers in cyberspace, the well-financed black hats in the shadows will often times be one step ahead of the rule-makers and the enforcers.

But doping detection technology improves, and what was once untraceable is now visible. A considerable number of urine samples were taken on athletes, samples that were considered clean in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. With the revelations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, sports officials decided it was time to re-test samples from previous Olympics to see whether any medal winners had gotten away with cheating. For certain Olympians, the results have been traumatic…others euphoric.

According to this New York Times article, 75 athletes have been declared cheaters as traces of the anabolic steroids Turinabol and Stanozolo. As the article explained, the “findings have resulted in a top-to-bottom rewriting of Olympic history.”

The article cited the case of American high jumper, Chaunté Lowe, who finished sixth in her competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Eight years later, when the urine samples were re-tested, two Russians and a Ukrainian who had finished ahead of Lowe in 3rd, 4th and 5th place were disqualified for doping. As a result, Lowe, who originally finished 6th, was suddenly a medalist.

As she was quoted as saying in the NYTImes article “I kept doing the math,” said Ms. Lowe, who originally finished sixth. “Wait: 6, 5, 4. … Oh my gosh — they’re right. I started crying.”

chaunte-lowe-in-2012
Chaunté Lowe in 2012

Nearly a decade later, out of her prime, Lowe should be receiving her bronze medal at the age of 32, way too late to take advantage of the “benefits” that come with a medal. For one, she may have been viewed as an athlete worth continued investment, and could have gone onto greater glory at the 2012 London Games at the age of 28. Or she could have managed her way into sponsorships in the strong afterglow upon her return from Beijing. At the very least, she could have been celebrated among her peers or in her hometown in a fleeting ego-affirming way or, who knows, in a life-changing way.

With the advancement of technology an assumption, taking samples during a given Games will continue to be key. Dr. Olivier Rabin of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was quoted in the article as saying, “Science progresses every day. Just over the past probably five years, the sensitivity of the equipment progressed by a factor of about 100. You see what was impossible to see before.”

However, the Rio Olympics demonstrated how poor planning and execution can lead to a large number of untested Olympians. In other words, years from now, WADA may not be able to catch all the cheats. Will Tokyo2020 be able to execute on the growing demands for testing?

The cat and mouse game continues….

Life in the Favela_NYTimes 1

The slums of Brazil are called favelas. One of every five residents in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Games, live in a favela. In this poignant video piece, Nadia Sussman of the New York Times paints a picture of despair as favela denizens seek stability and happiness amidst a war between the police and the drug lords.

Sussman interviews Damião Pereira de Jesus, a resident of a favela called Complexo de Alemão, whose aunt was killed by a stray bullet. He expressed his views of life in the favela after the Police, known as the Pacifying Police Units, came to his favela.

They came giving residents a lot of hope for social programs. But they don’t get close to residents in that way. The government comes with its laws. But here there’s already a law, the traffickers’ law. Residents are confused. Who to trust? Who to interact with?

Everyone has dreams. The favela is full of them. If the government would come and help realize these dreams, the community would be happier. I intend for my children to bury me, not for me to bury my children.

Screen capture of the New York Times video, Pacification Without Peace
Screen capture of the New York Times video, Pacification Without Peace
Flo Meiler in the Masters; Angela Jimenez, New York Times
Flo Meiler in the Masters; Angela Jimenez, New York Times

“You see?” Meiler said. “It’s never too late. I’m 81 years old, and look what I did. I didn’t sit in my rocking chair and say, ‘I got a pain here and a pain there, and I can’t do anything.’ I get out there, and I work out the pain.”

Flo Meiler, according to this New York Times photo essay, broke the world record in the heptathlon for women aged 80-84. She was competing in Lyon, France at the World Masters’ Athletic Championships that just ended, a regularly held international competition that brings together people of 35 years and older whose love for competition has not diminished with age.

The world is graying – we all know that. People are living longer, and with fewer babies being born in the industrialized nations, the percentage of people 60 years and older is accelerating.

This post celebrates the idea that no matter your age, if you burn with competition, you burn forever. As these pictures by photographer, Angele Jimenez show, these athletes go all out.

Do you?