Skating duo from North qualifies for Olympics

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Skating duo from North qualifies for Olympics

North Korean figure skating duo Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik qualified for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the first North Koreans to qualify for the Olympics that kick off in South Korea in February.

The 18-year-old Ryom and 25-year-old Kim scored 180.09 points (60.19 in the short program and 119.90 in the long program) at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Germany on Friday, their highest score yet at an international competition, taking the third place. The top five pairs at the Nebelhorn competition are allowed to go to the PyeongChang Olympics.

A total of 20 pairs are to compete in the event, which already includes Canada, Germany, Russia, the United States. Australian and Austrian duos won tickets in Nebelhorn.

The North Korean pair’s qualification is a first for the country in 12 years. It also could be the first time in eight years that North Korean athletes are competing at a winter Olympics. The last time was the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, in which figure skater Ri Song-chol competed.

It is unclear, however, whether Pyongyang will decide to send the pair over the border to compete at the Olympics here.

“It is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to decide whether they will participate or not,” the skaters’ coach Kim Hyon-son told reporters, according to the New York Times on Friday.

South Korea’s Blue House welcomed the pair’s qualification.

“We welcome the opportunity for North Korea to participate at the PyeongChang Olympics,” the Blue House said in a statement on Sunday. “We hope that more athletes from the North will be able to participate.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in an interview with CNN last month said, “I hope that North Korea will also participate, which will provide a very good opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation.”

“The competition to get the tickets to PyeongChang at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition was pretty intense,” said Ahn So-young, vice president of the Korea Skating Union based in Seoul. “So I would think that the North was not completely uninterested in getting the ticket to compete at the PyeongChang Olympics. Plus, the North Korean pair have been doing quite well in other competitions. Pyongyang must have high hopes for them.”

The pair won bronze at the Sapporo Asian Winter Games last February. It was the only medal North Korea took.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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