Sister of North Korea's Kim Jong Un to attend Olympics, says Seoul

Seoul has said Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader's sister, will accompany the country's ceremonial head of state. The Koreas have witnessed a thaw since Pyongyang announced its participation in the Winter Olympics.

The South Korean Unification Ministry on Wednesday announced that Kim Yo Jong, the youngest sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

North Korea informed Seoul that she would be accompanying Kim Yong Nam, the country's nominal head of state, alongside other senior officials.

Read more: Kim Yo Jong: Who is the North Korean leader's mysterious sister?

Recent high tensions on the Korean Peninsula have unexpectedly ebbed in the build-up to the Olympics, with a string of minor breakthroughs since Pyongyang announced its intention to participate in the Games in South Korea.

Kim Yo Jong holds significant influence in North Korea, according to analysts

Who is Kim Yo Jong?

Kim is the youngest daughter of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

She is considered one of Kim Jong Un's "closest confidantes." However, "given the patriarchal nature of North Korea's political culture, she is not a candidate for succession," Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University, told DW in 2014.

Last year, the North Korean leader appointed her an alternate member of the influential politburo, making her a replacement for his aunt, an influential figure during his father's rule. "Alternate" politburo members attend but do not have voting rights.

She has also been targeted by US sanctions, alongside other North Korean officials, for her alleged role in committing "severe human rights abuses."

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

A young leader

Kim Il Sung, the first and "eternal" president of North Korea, took power in 1948 with the support of the Soviet Union. The official calendar in North Korea begins with his birth year, 1912, designating it "Juche 1" after the state's Juche ideology. He was 41 when, as shown here, he signed the 1953 armistice that effectively ended the Korean War.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Hero worship

In the years and decades after the war, Pyongyang's propaganda machine worked hard to weave a mythical narrative around Kim Il Sung. His childhood and the time he spent fighting Japanese troops in the 1930s were embellished to portray him as an unrivaled military and political genius. At the 1980 party congress, Kim announced he would be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Ruling to the end

In 1992, Kim Il Sung started writing and publishing his memoirs, entitled "Reminiscences: With the Century." Describing his childhood, the North Korean leader claims that he first joined an anti-Japanese rally at 6 years old and became involved with the independence struggle at 8. The memoirs remained unfinished at Kim Il Sung's death in 1994.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

In his father's footsteps

After spending years in the top tiers of the regime, Kim Jong Il took power after his father's death. Kim Jong Il's 16-year rule was marked by famine and economic crisis in an already impoverished country. However, the cult of personality surrounding him and his father, Kim Il Sung, grew even stronger.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Rising star

Historians outside North Korea believe Kim Jong Il was born in a military camp in eastern Russia, most likely in 1941. However, the leader's official biography claims it happened on the sacred Korean mountain Paektu, exactly 30 years after his father, on April 15, 1942. A North Korean legend says the birth was blessed by a new star and a double rainbow.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Family trouble

Kim Jong Il had three sons and two daughters with three different women. This 1981 photo shows Kim Jong Il sitting besides his son Kim Jong Nam, with his sister-in-law and her two children in the background. Kim Jong Nam was eventually assassinated in 2017.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Grooming a successor

In 2009, Western media reported that Kim Jong Il had picked his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to take over as the head of the regime. The two appeared together at a military parade on 2010, a year before Kim Jong Il passed away.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Together

According to Pyongyang, the death of Kim Jong Il in 2011 was marked by a series of mysterious events. State media reported that ice snapped loudly at a lake on the Paektu mountain during a sudden snowstorm, with a glowing message appearing on the rocks. After Kim Jong Il's death, a 22-meter (72-foot) statue of him was erected next to the one of his father (l.) in Pyongyang.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

Mysterious past

Kim Jong Un mostly stayed out of the spotlight before his ascent to power. His exact age is disputed, but he is believed to have been born between 1982 and 1984. He was reportedly educated in Switzerland. In 2013, he surprised the world by meeting with former NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

A new cult

Like the leaders before him, Kim Jong Un is hallowed by the state's totalitarian regime. In 2015, South Korean media reported about a new teacher's manual in the North that claimed Kim Jong Un could drive at the age of 3. In 2017, state media said that a monument to the young leader would be build on Mount Paektu.

The truth and myths of the Kim dynasty

A Kim with a hydrogen bomb

Altough Kim took power at a younger age and with less of a public profile than his father and grandfather, he has managed to maintain his grip on power. The assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong Nam in 2017 served to cement his reputation abroad as a merciless dictator. The North Korean leader has also vastly expanded the country's nuclear arsenal.

Tensions on eve of Olympics

The high-profile delegation of North Korean politicians is scheduled to arrive in South Korea on Friday for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. North Korea has 22 athletes who will compete in the international sports competition, the two Koreas will walk together under a neutral flag at the opening ceremony.

Despite the recent rapprochement between the Koreas, the North's state news agency, KCNA, provided a reminder of the underlying tensions earlier on Wednesday, slamming protests in the South Korean port town of Mukho.

The protesters had rallied against the arrival of a North Korean arts troupe visiting for the Games. KCNA described the protesters as "headless chickens," saying they amounted to "no more than a group of benighted gangsters inferior to beasts."

Critics of North Korea's participation in the Olympics have accused Pyongyang of attempting to ease pressure on the country, which is under international sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.

North Korean authorities had asked Seoul to provide much-needed fuel to the ship that transported the arts troupe — the most recent international sanctions against Pyongyang specifically targeted oil imports. South Korea exempted the ship from sanctions in order to allow it to bring the arts troupe by water.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Snow in Pyeongchang, ice in Gangneung

The Games in South Korea will require less travel than at Sochi four years ago. Any competitions on skis, plus the bob and luge, will take place in the Pyeongchang Mountain Cluster. The disciplines on ice be staged around 35 kilometers to the east in Gangneung Coastal Cluster. Pyeongchang is a small city of around 10,000, roughly 180 kilometers east of the capital Seoul.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Alpensia sport park

Alepnsia is a winter sports resort built especially for the Gangwon province's 2010 bid for the Winter Olympics. It cost in the region of €1 billion ($1.25 billion). Alpensia is host to the sliding events (bobsled, luge and skeleton), biathlon, cross-country skiing and sk jumping centers. The resort was built on what used to arable land, primarily potato fields.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Alpensia Ski Jumping Center

Might top German ski-jumper Richard Freitag leap to a medal off these ramps? If the spectator stands look a familiar shape to you, there's a reason for the that. The landing zone stands are more typically used for football games involving Gangwon FC. It's one of the signs that the organizers have spared a thought for the sustainability and future of the venues.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Alpensia Biathlon Center and Cross Country Skiing Center

The courses for cross-country skiers, winter biathletes and Nodic combined competitors snake around the 7,500-seater ski jumping stadium, thorough the forested hills. Although the peaks and troughs are not that steep, the wind could prove a real issue for the athletes, especially when shooting. Close to the coast and 700 meters above sea level, heavy winds often blow in from the Sea of Japan.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Olympic Sliding Center

The ice track for the bob and skeleton riders can accommodate 7,000 spectators. German luge coach Norbert Loch estimates that peak speeds of around 130 km/h (81 mph) will be possible. Three-time Olympic luge winner Felix Loch describes the course as follows: "An interesting track, which will definitely be good fun. The phase around turns 8 and 9 will be decisive."

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Stadium is also located in the Alpensia resort. It's a temporary stadium designed for the opening and closing ceremonies. It can accommodate 35,000. At a cost of over €100 million, it's a costly temporary fixture. It's slated for deconstruction after the Games, as no subsequent use for it could be found.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Jeongseon and Yongpyong Alpine Centers

Alpine skiing events will take place at two venues: speed events (downhill and Super-G) at the Jeongseon Alpine Center and technical disciplines (slalom, grand slalom and team events) at the Yongpyong Alpine Center, roughly half an hour's drive away. Snowboarders and freestyle skiers will compete at the Phoenix Snow Park in Yongpyong.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Gangneung Ice Arena

For the host nation, it's the ice events more than the skiing that offer real medal hopes. South Korea is especially favored to fare well in the figure skating and short track speed skating. Both those events will take place in the all-new Gangneung Ice Arena. It offers space for 12,000 spectators and, according to the organizer, boasts an environmentally-friendly cooling system.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Gangneung Oval

Expect a strong contingent of fans from the Netherlands, speed skating's dominant power, in the Gangneung Oval seats. The arena has a 400-meter track and space for 8,000 people. It was opened in February 2017 for the World Single Distance Championships. Dutch skaters won all five of the men's titles in that event, and one of the five for women.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Gangneung Hockey Center

This is the principle of the two ice hockey venues for the 2018 Games. All the men's games and all the medal games will be played here. The women will play their earlier matches at the Kwandong Hockey Center. This four-floor stadium is estimated to have cost around €100 million. Whether it will remain in use afterwards is not clear. While South Koreans do play ice hockey, it's a big house to fill.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Gangneung Curling Center

The logo, like the name, gives the game away. This is where the curling stones will glide and the brushes will furiously sweep a path for them. But you won't see German athletes in here, unless they've come as spectators. For the first time since its Olympic adoption in 1998, no German curling team has qualified for the Games.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Olympic Village

A few more high-rises than you'd see in the average village. As with many previous Games, accommodation for the athletes was built from scratch. There's one Olympic Village in Pyeongchang (pictured here) and another in Gangneung. As well as the bedrooms, the athletes and coaches have shared kitchens, canteens, living rooms and conference rooms and more besides.

Where the Games will be played — Pyeongchang's Olympic venues

Olympic Village rooms

The bedrooms have a bit of a youth hostel feel to them. They're sparsely furnished and at such a size, getting the right roommate (with the right amount of equipment and luggage) could be crucial. Nevertheless, the bedding is obviously supposed to remind the athletes why they've come.

ls/msh (AP, Reuters)