Figure skating could help ease Korean tensions and Montreal played a role

If the world manages to avoid nuclear war this year, a figure skating coach from Montreal may well have played a small role.

North Korean figure skaters qualified for Olympic Games after training under Bruno Marcotte in Montreal

Figure skaters Ryom Ok-tae and Kim Ju-sik of North Korea have qualified for the Olympic Winter Games. (The Associated Press)

A figure skating coach from Montreal may have played a small role in easing tensions between the two Koreas after helping a pair of potential North Korean Olympians flourish.

With North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's nuclear threats looming over the competition, the country is now reportedly considering sending two of its athletes, last minute, to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The figure skating pair Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik spent the summer training in Montreal and are the only North Korean athletes who qualified for the Winter Olympics.

The pair flourished under the watchful eye of Bruno Marcotte, the 43-year-old skating coach and former World Junior bronze medallist from Montreal.

They all met at the World Figure Skating Championships last year.

"They approached me and at first they just wanted some advice on what they should do to be a better team," Marcotte said. "But that led to an off-ice lift class." 

More serious meetings about studying under Marcotte followed.

Bruno Marcotte would love to see the pair attend the Olympics. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel, Marcotte's wife, is also competing at the Games in hopes of snagging her first Olympic gold medal. She was part of a silver medal-winning team in Sochi. 

Following training with Marcotte and mastering choreography with the help of his sister Julie, they were able to secure a spot at the Games while skating to Quebec artist Ginette Reno's Je ne suis qu'une chanson in Germany last September.

While there aren't any guarantees of Ryom and Kim being sent across the border to compete in South Korea, Marcotte said he would love if the pair could attend the Olympics.

He said a lot of people focus on the politics of the situation and not the talent of these two skaters.

"This is a good team. A team that earned the right [to compete]," Marcotte said.

The world watches

This weekend an International Olympic Committee representative for North Korea said the country will likely compete at the Games next month, according to Japanese media reports.

Both South Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump have heralded North Korea's potential participation as a step forward in mending tense relations on the peninsula.

Under his leadership, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been pushing to build a better relationship with North Korea and invited the nation to participate in the Games.

The two Koreas will hold a rare discussion at the border starting Tuesday, exactly one month before the Winter Olympics kick off on Feb. 9.

Korean competitors became close in Montreal

The Montreal coach has also played a role in bringing the two Koreas together in an unexpected fashion.

While they were practising in Montreal, Ryom and Kim formed a friendship with their South Korean competitors who were also training with Marcotte.

Alex Kang-chan Kam and Kim Kyu-eun, the South Korean skating pair, said they became close and exchanged food.

South Korean figure skaters Kim Kyu-eun and Alex Kang-chan Kam also trained in Montreal last summer. (Reuters)
"As we trained together for two months in Canada, we became close easily because we speak the same language," said Kam. "We rooted for each other and we said that we should meet in Pyeongchang."

The pair also hope they will meet their counterparts next month at the Winter Games.

"When I meet them again, I want to say 'It's good to see you after a long time,'" said Kim. "And I want to compete well against them as friendly rivals."

With files from CBC's Simon Nakonechny, Radio-Canada, Reuters and the Associated Press