North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik qualified for the Winter Olympics
Talks on North Korea's participation take place Tuesday
As the Winter Olympics kick off next month, all eyes will be on the Gangneung Ice Arena in Pyeongchang – especially if figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik take to the ice.
Thanks to an extraordinary thawing of tensions between their homeland and the hosts of the 2018 Games, neighbor and rival South Korea, the pair’s hopes of competing, once slim, may be resurrected.
South Korea announced Tuesday that, after a morning of person-to-person talks at the heavily-guarded border between the two countries, the North would send a delegation to the Olympics.
“With regard to PyeongChang, North Korea expressed its stance that it will send its high-level delegation, athletes representing the People’s Olympic Committee, a cheering squad and an art troupe, a visitors’ group, a Taekwondo demonstration team and a press corp,” South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters in Seoul.
The North Korean skaters, who were both born in Pyongyang, had qualified for for the Winter Olympics in September, but their country’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) missed the deadline to register in October.
However, the International Olympic Committee has now extended the deadline for North Korean participation at the Games in Pyeongchang.
“The IOC’s mission is always to ensure the participation of all qualified athletes, beyond all political tensions and divisions,” said the IOC statement on Monday.
Skating with ‘happiness’ and ‘passion’
The pair – who perform to “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles – produced an impressive free-skate performance to secure one of the final Olympic spots up for grabs at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September.
Ryom, 18, and Kim, 25, spent the summer training in Montreal under renowned Canadian coach, Bruno Marcotte.
He told CNN the two North Koreans exhibit “happiness” and “passion,” while skating and called them “a joy to work with.”
“Their goal – all we talked about – is how they can get their score higher. And they want to take one step at a time. You know, the next goal is to come in top five at Worlds. The only thing we talk about is how can they progress (in) the world ranking.”
Marcotte is coach to Canadian world champions Megan Duhamel and Eric Radford, while his sister Julie – a renowned figure skating choreographer – devised the North Koreans’ free skate routine which is performed to Quebec singer Ginette Reno’s song “Je ne suis qu’une chanson.”
“I had to make all the arrangements for them, because I mean, they don’t have a credit card. So they cannot just book a hotel,” Bruno Marcotte told Canada’s Global News. “They do nost have [a] driver’s licence, so I could not just find a place anywhere in Montreal.”
According to Marcotte, the skaters came to Montreal with their own North Korean coach and an official from the country’s skating federation.
“They were often all of them together, but they were not constantly watched or surveyed, no,” Marcotte told Global News in November, reflecting on the dynamic of the North Korean group while they were in Montreal.
The International Skating Union website lists Kim’s interests as music, dance, reading, while Ryom’s hobbies include football, reading, music.
Neither skater has previously participated at the Winter Olympics, and their most notable success came at the Pairs Figure Skating in the Asian Figure Skating Trophy in Manila, Philippines, in August 2016, where they won gold.
They followed it up as bronze medalists in the Pairs Figure Skating at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, but could only muster a 15th-place finish at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland.