Olympics and 2 Koreas

Published: 2.10.2018
Level 5   |   Time: 3:33
Accent: American
Source: New York Times (01.09.2018)

From the New York Times, a brief history of the relationship between North and South Korea during the Olympic games.


triangle Directions

  1. REVIEW the vocabulary / background.
  2. WATCH the video.
  3. ANSWER the questions.
  4. CHECK your answers. (Show Answers)

triangle Vocabulary

  • escalating [adj] - getting bigger, higher
  • brinkmanship [n] - being close to war
  • crippling [adj] - permanently damaging
  • sanctions [n] - government punishments against a country (to hurt their economy)
  • intercontinental [adj] - able to cross the ocean to a different continent
  • hair-trigger [adj] - very easy to start a war
  • a standoff [n] - 2 sides refuse to cooperate
  • diffused [v] - calmed down
  • mortal [adj] - worst
  • ends up as [phv] - finally becomes
  • a pariah [n] - person/group excluded; left out
  • geopolitical [adj] - internationaly political
  • decades [n] - periods of ten years
  • isolation [n] - keeping someone separate from the group
  • a slate [n] - a list
  • world class [exp] - some of the best
  • formally [adv] - officially
  • march [v] - walk
  • a crackdown [n] - a punishment
  • a regime [n] - a government, especially an authoritarian one
  • a committee [n] - a group that plans
  • urging [v] - strongly requesting
  • so-called [adj] - used to express that a name is not accurate or appropriate
  • rewind [v] - go backwards
  • an affront [n] - an insult
  • dignity [n] - worth, respect
  • apparent [adj] - seems to be but not sure
  • sabotage [v] - destroy
  • attendees [n] - people who attend
  • hailed [v] - honored, praised, considered
  • feeble [adj] - weak
  • boycott [n] - protest, did not attend
  • abandon [v] - leave alone, not support
  • famine [n] - starvation, no food
  • nuclear ambitions [n] - attempts/plans to develop nuclear weapons
  • unite [v] - come together
  • notoriously [adv] - a fact, usually negative, is well-known
  • open fire [exp] - start shooting
  • triggering [v] - starting
  • posed [v] - held
  • intensifying [v] - growing stronger
  • diplomacy [n] - attempt to bring peace
  • qualify [v] - pass the test
  • it remains to be seen [exp] - we will see
  • an off-ramp [n] - an escape point
  • brief [adj] - short
  • a reprieve [n] - a break, pause
  • a whirl [n] - a quick trip
  • a rink [n] - the area of ice for competition

triangle Questions

  1. Where are the 2018 Olympics? (Check all that apply.)
    South Korea
    In the country that is North Korea's second enemy
    40 miles from North Korea

  2. North Korea is going to be a ____.
    not sure

  3. How does the narrator describe North Korea's athletes?
    as impressive
    as ot very good
    as weak
    as better than South Korea's

  4. In which events has North Korea won Olympic medals in the past? (Check all that apply.)

  5. Who wants North Korea to participate in the games? (Check all that apply.)
    The American President
    The South Korean President
    The International Olympic Committee
    The United Nations

  6. How did North Korea respond to Seoul's selection as the host city for the 1988 Olympics? (Check all that apply.)
    They felt disrespected.
    They asked China and the Soviet Union not to go.
    They negotiated.
    They threatened.

  7. Why did North Korea bomb a Korean Air flight?
    to show their anger
    to start a war
    to ruin the Olympics
    to kill athletes from the South

  8. What happened in North Korea after it was named a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S.? (Check all that apply.)
    nuclear plans

  9. When was the last international sports competition in South Korea?

  10. What was the last international sports competition in South Korea?
    The Summer Olympics
    The World Table Tennis Championships
    The World Track and Field Championships
    The World Cup

  11. What happened during this competition?
    North Korea won the competition.
    Two North Korean boats attacked a South Korean patrol ship.
    Shots were fired at the border between North and South Korea.
    Terrorists detonated a bomb in a stadium.

  12. What sporting events have recently improved diplomacy between North and South Korea? (Check all that apply.)
    cross-border soccer matches
    cross-border hockey matches
    cross-border basketball matches
    a Taekwondo exchange
    a speed skating competition
    the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

  13. What does the narrator mention about the North Korean figure skaters? (Check all that apply.)
    They qualified for the Olympics.
    They became very famous.
    They won the World Figure Skating Championships.
    They skated to a Beatles song.

triangle Discussion

  1. Do you think the Olympics is a good opportunity to promote peace among countries? Why/why not?
  2. What are some other ways we can bring more peace to the world?
  3. If you were a South Korean athlete, how would you feel about North Koreans joining your Olympic team?
  4. Who do you think is most responsible for the poor relationship between North Korea and other countries? North Korea, the USA, South Korea, or someone else?

triangle Script

Escalating brinkmanship. Crippling sanctions. Intercontinental missile testing. Can the hair-trigger standoff between North and South Korea be diffused by figure skating?

The 2018 winter Olympic games will be hosted by North Korea’s mortal enemy about 40 miles from their border, in Pyeongchang South Korea. Whether the regime ends up as a participant or as a pariah, it will not be the first the Olympics has been at the center of a geopolitical chess game.

Despite a tiny economy and decades of international isolation, North Korea has produced an impressive slate of world class athletes; and won dozens of Olympic medals. From judo to gymnastics, table tennis to wresting. In the early 200’s, the two Koreas, still formally at war, actually marched together in the Olympic ceremonies. This year, even with the global crackdown on the regime, South Korea’s president, the International Olympic Committee have been repeatedly urging North Korea to attend the so-called games of peace.


To fully understand the global push to get North Korea to compete, you need to rewind to the 1988 Olympics. Seoul was selected as the host city. To North Korea, it was not just a snub, but an affront to their national dignity. They demanded, with apparent support from China and the Soviet Union, that the International Olympic committee allow the north to co-host and move some events across the border. There were two years of secret negotiations and threats. Ten months before the 1988 games, two agents of the regime placed a bomb on Korean Air flight 858, killing more than a hundred people. The bombers later said that the goal was to sabotage the Olympics by scaring off attendees. But the games went on as planned, and were hailed as a historic success for the south.

Meanwhile, North Korea, which carried out a feeble boycott after being abandoned by the Soviets and Chinese, was named a state sponsor of terror by the United States. What followed was years of international isolation, crippling hardship and famine, and aggressive nuclear ambitions.

There have been periods of calm. The north occasionally sent teams to international competitions in the South. In 1991, the two Koreas actually united to play as a single team in youth soccer and table tennis tournaments. But North Korea notoriously lashed out again when the South was hosting the World Cup in 2002. During the final set of matches, two boats from the North opened fire on a South Korean patrol ship, triggering a gun battle that killed and injured dozens of sailors on both sides.

It was the last major international sports competition held in South Korea. Today, the threat posed by North Korea has been intensifying. But diplomacy has found a place on the playing field. There were the North and South gymnasts in Rio; the cross-border women’s hockey and soccer matches last spring; the tai kwon do exchange in June. And then there was a pair of figure skaters from North Korea, who in September won world-wide fans and qualified to compete in the Olympics, skating to a Beatles song. But it remains to be seen whether the games can offer a diplomatic off-ramp for the standoff. Or even a brief reprieve for a whirl around the rink.