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Pyongyang’s figure skaters work while short-trackers rest

Feb 03,2018
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North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok, left, and Kim Ju-sik practice at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon, on Friday. [YONHAP]
The North Korean figure skating duo of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik got in their first practice on Friday, one day after arriving in South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Two North Korean short-track speed skaters, meanwhile, skipped their scheduled morning practice here in Gangneung, the host of all ice events during the Feb. 9-25 Olympics.

Ryom and Kim are among 22 North Korean athletes set to participate in PyeongChang, the first Winter Games to take place in South Korea. This is also the first time North Korea has sent athletes to an Olympics in South Korea, as Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.

Ryom and Kim were on the 32-member delegation that checked in to Gangneung Olympic Village late Thursday, but there was no rest for the weary. They hit the ice at Gangneung Ice Arena just after 9 a.m. and put in about 40 minutes of work. For the entire practice, the two had the ice to themselves.

After a brief warmup, Ryom and Kim gradually increased the intensity of their practice. They performed the ever-difficult death spiral multiple times - with Kim in a pivot position, holding Ryom’s hand as she circled around, her body nearly parallel to the ice - while mixing in spins and step sequences. They didn’t attempt any jumps during their session.

Kim, 25, listed at 175 centimeters (5 feet 9 inches), and Ryom, a petite 149-centimeter skater who turned 19 Friday, cut graceful figures as they covered the entire ice surface.

The two left the arena without speaking to the media. An official working at the venue explained that the mixed zone wasn’t yet properly set up and that the skaters had informed him earlier that they wouldn’t pass through the area.

The North also has athletes in cross-country skiing and alpine skiing, but Ryom and Kim are by far the most accomplished athletes of the current delegation.

Last weekend, they captured the bronze medal at the International Skating Union (ISU) Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Taiwan, with a personal best score of 184.98 points. The bronze was North Korea’s first medal at an ISU-sanctioned event.

The duo also won bronze at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan.

Ryom and Kim will have plenty of time to get ready since their competition will not begin until Feb. 14 with the pairs short program.

More than a dozen journalists watched the practice and a few TV cameras tracked their moves - such was the fascination with these skaters.

Elsewhere in Gangneung, North Korean short-track speed skaters Jong Kwang-bom and Choe Un-song were nowhere to be found for their official practice session at a local university rink. North Korea was supposed to join Belarus and Poland from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.

Gangneung Ice Arena will host both short-track and figure skating events during the Olympics.

Yonhap