GANGNEUNG, South Korea: North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik appeared oblivious to all the excitement surrounding them at the Winter Olympics as they performed a slick training session to a Beatles classic on Tuesday.
Scores of cameras snapped the moment the pair, looking cool calm and collected, and dressed in black, set foot on the South Korean ice at the Gangneung Arena.
Ryom, who turned 19 last week, and Kim, 25, were among a group of North Korean athletes to arrive in this east coast port on a rare direct flight between the peninsula neighbours, who are still technically at war last week.
The couple’s presence at the 2018 Games was only confirmed following a sudden rapprochement between the two Koreas after tensions reached fever pitch as Pyongyang carried out a series of weapons tests.
As the only North Koreans who met the Olympic qualifying standards, much attention has focused on Ryom and Kim ahead of the Games.
But despite the high stakes, they smiled their way through a series of flips and jumps to Jeff Beck’s version of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.”
Once completed, a round of applause rippled around the rink.
Then, after exchanging words with their coach, waiting reporters were left empty-handed as they sailed through the mixed zone at a rate of knots, a group of officials following in their wake.
One highly interested observer was Bruno Marcotte, the skating coach the pair trained with in Montreal last year.
The Canadian, who is acting as consultant to the Pyongyang-born duo at these Games, was impressed by what he saw.
“I’ve come here to give them my support. When they came to train with me in the summer we created a strong bond and I just hope they have the skate of their lives,” he said.
“They have improved since qualifying, this afternoon they looked really good.”
That said, and despite the likely enormous public support, Marcotte suggests any talk of them claiming a medal is wishful thinking.
“They’re not here to win a medal, let’s be honest, they’re ranked 15th in the world. It’s a really strong field,” he said.
“They were 15th at the world championships in Helsinki, if they come top 12 we’d be ecstatic.
“Their main focus and mine with them is to help them improve their personal best score.”
Ryom and Kim, who won bronze for their first international honours in Taiwan this month, line up in the pairs staged on February 14 and 15. — AFP