Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik are a pair of figure skaters from North Korea. And they will be the first North Korean Olympians to compete in a South Korean Olympics.
That landmark deal is the result of the first diplomatic talks between the North and South in two years, which wrapped up on Tuesday after a full day of negotiating. The Washington Post reported that North Korea will send a high-level delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang which will include athletes, fans, press, performing arts squads, and government officials.
There are a number of details that will need to be worked out, including how North Korea will march in during the opening and closing ceremonies. According to the Los Angeles Times, South Korea suggested that North Korea march with them, and the North said they would consider it.
But what about the actual athletes, the figure skating pair of Ryom and Kim? Not a whole lot. They mainly train in the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang, though CNN says that they spent the summer training in Montreal under coach Bruno Marcotte. They rarely compete internationally, but they made their debut at the 2017 World Championships in Finland, skating to a cover of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” by Jeff Beck.
They did better than expected, placing 15th and even beating one of the two pairs of US skaters. The pair also won a bronze medal at the Asian Winter Games in 2017.
There was a slight problem with their Olympic status. Ryom and Kim have qualified under IOC rules, but the two didn’t register in time. If this were any other country, that might be an issue, but it’s hard to imagine a late registration would keep these North Korean athletes from competing. The International Olympic Committee agreed, and according to CNN the registration deadline has been extended. Plus, the IOC will most likely extend “wild card” spots to North Korean athletes to allow more of them to compete in the games.
The only other Olympics to take place in South Korea was the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, which North Korea boycotted. And overall, North has won just two Olympic medals ever, both for speedskating (silver in 1964 and bronze in 1992). It’s not likely that Ryom and Kim will win any in Pyeongchang, but that’s not really the point here. The triumph is that they’re competing at all.
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