The qualification rounds for the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Pyongyang Open begin today, marking the return of World Tour table tennis to North Korea for the first time in 36 years.
The last time an international table tennis event was held in the country was the 1979 ITTF World Championships, also held in Pyongyang, the country's capital.
The Pyongyang Open is the 13th stop on the GAC Group 2015 World Tour and provides an opportunity for the world's best table tennis players to gain qualification points for the year-ending World Tour Grand Final, scheduled to take place in Portugal’s capital Lisbon from December 10 to 13.
The qualification stage runs for the next two days, with the main draw due to begin on Friday (July 31) and the finals on Sunday (August 2).
“We are all very pleased to welcome our international table tennis friends again to play in this big international event,” said North Korea Table Tennis Association secretary general Ju Jong Chol.
“We look forward to them enjoying our country and adding a new chapter to our rich table tennis heritage.”
Table tennis is fast becoming one of the most popular sports in North Korea with the gold medal-winning mixed doubles performances of Kim Hyok-Bong and Kim Jong at the 2013 World Championships in Paris and 2014 Asian Games in Incheon rocketing them to national stardom.
Before their triumph in the French capital, North Korea had won only two World Championships titles, coming in 1975 and 1977.
The favourite to take the women’s title in Pyongyang will be the number one seed and local hero Ri Myong Sun.
The 23-year-old was a part of the North Korea team which claimed silver at the 2015 World Team Cup, losing out to China in the final.
“It is exciting for me and all the DPR Korea players to be able to play in such a big international event in our home country," said Ri, a London 2012 Olympian.
“We have shown the world how good we are, now it is time to show our own people our table tennis skills against top international players.
“It will mean a lot to me to win this event in my home country.”
The final two days of the Pyongyang Open will be streamed live on the ITTF's YouTube channel, which has been specially opened to promote the event worldwide.
To access the channel, click here.
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