Maybe we should cut him some slack given the reception he may face from Kim Jong-un when he returns home — but as far as bad sportsmanship goes this was as bad as it gets by North Korean speed skater Jong Kwang-bom.

One of just 10 North Korean athletes who made the journey south to compete in PyeongChang, Jong, 16, looked completely out of his depth as soon as his heat in the men's 500m short track event began, news.com.au reports.

As he pushed off his right foot slipped from under him, causing him to fall flat on his face. But in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to earn a restart to the race, Jong threw out his right hand and tried to trip Japanese skater Keita Watanabe.

Watanabe shook off the grab and kept his balance, but officials deemed there was enough interference to order the competitors back to the start line.

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Jong Kwang Bom of North Korea crashes at the start of his men's 500 meters short track speedskating heat. Photo / AP
Jong Kwang Bom of North Korea crashes at the start of his men's 500 meters short track speedskating heat. Photo / AP

Jong's second attempt wasn't much better as he again collided with Watanabe and crashed into the wall of the rink. He was penalised, bringing an end to his Olympic campaign, which lasted around three seconds in total.

After the race USA Today reporter Martin Rogers attempted to interview Jong, who he said "wore the kind of look you'd expect from someone who might have to go home and explain to a military regime with nuclear weapons why you performed so badly while representing your country". But "when asked for comment, Jong turned his head the other way and kept walking".

His rivals were prepared to cut him some slack. Watanabe described Jong's trip as a "reflex" and his coach, Jonathan Guilmette brushed the moment off as something that "happens at least once every World Cup event".

American Thomas Hong, who was hampered by Jong's second crash, was also generous. "It did affect me because I was just too close," Hong told USA Today. "But unpredictability and short track just go hand-in-hand."

But some viewers were less inclined to overlook the move as a normal part of speed skating.