North Korean skaters who trained in Montreal cleared to compete at Olympics
Pairs team Ryom Tae-Ok, Kim Ju-Sik worked with Canada's Bruno Marcotte last summer
North Korea's announcement that it will send a delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea clears the way for a pair of figure skaters with Montreal ties to compete.
Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik finished in the top six in a qualifying event in September to secure a spot at the Games in Pyeongchang, but their ability to compete was in limbo until Tuesday's announcement.
"It's very exciting," Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte told CBC's Heather Hiscox. "It was a privilege for me to work with them last summer for eight weeks and they're such great people."
"They deserve to be there because they're actually really good skaters."
Marcotte, who retired from competitive skating in 2002, is married to Canada's Meagan Duhamel and currently coaches her and pairs partner Eric Radford. Ryom and Kim are fans of Duhamel and Radford, which contributed to the Pyongyang natives' decision to work with Marcotte.
"They asked me if it was possible to come to Montreal and train with [Duhamel and Radford] and learn from them," Marcotte says, adding that his sister, Julie Marcotte, worked with the North Korean pair on choreography for their long program.
The Canadian influence was clearly evident in Ryom and Kim's qualification; the pair secured their Olympic spot while skating to Quebec artist Ginette Reno's Je ne suis qu'une chanson.
We really enjoyed training with the pairs skaters from North Korea this summer! Can’t wait to see them again at the Olympics 🤩😍 <a href="https://twitter.com/brunomarcotte?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@brunomarcotte</a> <a href="https://t.co/fv5Cl9XCL4">https://t.co/fv5Cl9XCL4</a>—@mhjd_85
Bruno Marcotte says he worked with them on navigating the finer points of the new judging system and the mental aspect of the sport.
"When they came to me, they were already a good, established, world-level pairs team," Marcotte says. "Their strength was mainly their unison, their emotion. They skate with a lot of emotion and they're very charismatic on the ice.
'A great step forward'
The two Koreas agreed in a joint statement to hold talks on reducing military tensions and "actively co-operate" in next month's Winter Olympics on Tuesday.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach says in a statement that North Korea's decision to send a delegation to the Games is "a great step forward in the Olympic spirit."
The IOC says it's now waiting for official details of how North Korean participation could work before it decides which athletes could compete.
Ryom and Kim are the only North Korean athletes who have qualified for the Feb. 9-25 Olympics in Pyeongchang so far. However, the IOC could potentially hold extra invitational spots open to symbolize togetherness between the two Koreas
South Korea's Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung earlier cited North Korean officials as saying their delegation would include officials, athletes, cheerleaders and journalists.
Rare Winter Games appearance
North Korea was far from certain to compete in Pyeongchang. It boycotted the only other Olympics hosted in South Korea, the Seoul Games of 1988, and has often skipped the Winter Olympics entirely.
It hasn't won a winter medal since 1992 and its last team in 2010 consisted of just one figure skater and one speed skater, neither of whom came close to the podium.
By contrast, North Korea punches above its weight in the Summer Olympics and won seven medals across weightlifting, gymnastics, shooting and table tennis in 2016.
Even with a deal for North Korea to compete in Pyeongchang, the two Koreas and the IOC face some thorny issues of protocol.
Flags, anthems and the opening ceremony will all require delicate negotiation.
At the Games themselves, any slip-up could spark a diplomatic incident. The North Korean women's soccer team walked off the field at the 2012 Olympics when the South Korean flag was mistakenly shown in a pre-game video package.
North and South Korean athletes have marched together at some previous Olympics during periods of warmer relations between the two governments, and South Korea has suggested a repeat in Pyeongchang. If they march separately, the South Korean team would massively outnumber the North Koreans.
With files from CBC News and The Associated Press