Winter Olympics 2018: North Korean cross-country skier Ri Yong Gum makes tearful and bloody Games debut

Pyeongchang: A North Korean cross-country skier took a heavy tumble and a wrong turn as she trudged in tears to a lonely 89th-placed finish out of 90 in an ignominious Olympic debut Thursday.

Ri Yong Gum completed her tortuous 10km nearly 12 minutes after winner Ragnhild Haga of Norway and sobbed as she hugged her coach at the line, a trace of blood glistening on her teeth.

The 18-year-old was never in the mix for a medal but her race really hit the skids halfway through when she fell and took a few rolls on the ice.

North Korea's Ri Yong Gum competes during the women's 10km freestyle cross-country competition at the Alpensia cross country ski centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang. / AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE

North Korea's Ri Yong Gum competes during the women's 10km freestyle cross-country competition. AFP

She gamely picked herself up, only to then go the wrong way.

But she was still cheered by dozens of South Korean supporters dressed in blue hoodies and waving mini unification flags showing the Korean peninsula as one.

"Cheer up, Ri Yong Gum, we are proud of you," chanted the generous home fans.

At least Ri Yong Gum was not last — that honour went to Chile's Claudia Salcedo.

North Korea has sent 22 athletes to Pyeongchang as part of a charm offensive after months of bellicose rhetoric and provocative missile launches.

Of those competitors, only pairs skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik reached the Olympic qualifying standard with the rest, including Ri Yong Gum, getting a special invite.

Ri Yong Gum competed in an international competition in Russia last year, finishing last of 83 racers.

North Korea is said to have just one ski resort, the brainchild of the country's leader Kim Jong Un, although it is often empty except for the nursery slope, according to media reports.

Updated Date: Feb 15, 2018 17:56 PM

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