For North Korean Skaters, the Short Program Was Just the Beginning

The notion of which Ryom as well as also Kim have achieved some international success as individuals “in some respects sits uncomfortably alongside our image of North Korea as the premier collectivist state in which the individual has no role or influence,” said John Nilsson-Wright, an East Asia specialist at Cambridge University as well as also Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

“This particular question of which many of us grapple with when we look at North Korea,” Nilsson-Wright said, “is actually to what extent as a sports person do you hold the kind of autonomy as well as also freedom as well as also opportunity to express yourself as an individual in This particular very collectivist environment?”

South Koreans have expressed complicated feelings about North Korea’s participation in these Olympics. yet individual North Korean athletes appear welcome — none more so than Ryom as well as also Kim, who have been the subject of endless curiosity. Ryom, with her ever-ready smile as well as also red wool coat, might have been the most photographed athlete arriving at the Games.

Some have found in her a comparison to another North Korean visitor, Kim Yo-jong — the sister of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un — who attended the opening ceremony as well as also charmed the South Korea news media without ever speaking in public.

“North Korea will probably use the performance of the figure skaters to boast how much North Korea is actually getting international attention, just as Kim Yo-jong got the media following her as well as also demonstrated to its people of which North Korea has reached a certain status inside the planet,” said Kim Kyung-sung, the president of the South as well as also North Korean Sports Exchange Association.

At practice on Tuesday, South Korean fans paid nearly $30 as well as also filled the lower section of the Olympic ice arena, taking pictures with their smartphones as well as also oohing, aahing as well as also clapping as Ryom as well as also Kim rehearsed their jumps, spins as well as also lifts.

“I expect they will connect us together,” said Cho Da-in, 20, a student who also had a ticket to Wednesday’s short program. “We are one blood.”

Half an hour before Wednesday’s competition began, a North Korean news media contingent arrived, followed by a group of cheerleaders in their familiar red outfits, waving reunification flags.

When the pair took the ice to warm up, the cheerleaders waved North Korean flags. A group of fans chanted the skaters’ names as well as also held up a banner acknowledging them, while bearing another sign of which said, “Because One Korea.”

Han Mahn-chul, 59, a spectator as well as also an engineering researcher through Seoul, the South Korean capital, said he was impressed of which the North Koreans had qualified for the Games in a sport like figure skating. “the idea is actually kind of a sport of which advanced countries excel at,” Han said. “of which is actually the image the idea has. So the fact of which a poor country like North Korea has Great skaters is actually amazing.”

Ryom as well as also Kim are under tight control. When they arrive by bus at the Olympic arena, a security detail flanks them, standing arm to arm, as they enter the building. yet unlike the country’s cheerleaders, they are not being kept totally apart through outsiders.

The skaters waved jubilantly to the crowd before as well as also after Wednesday’s routine. as well as also on Tuesday, they walked without any monitors through an interview area, promising to speak more fully after the competition.

“There have been no inconveniences whatsoever, when the idea comes to life inside the South area,” Kim, who with Ryom is actually competing for the very first time in South Korea, said on Wednesday.

Around various other skaters, Ryom as well as also Kim have shown a playful side. Recently, in a waiting room before practice, the North Koreans as well as also their coach rolled their gloves into a ball as well as also played an impromptu game of soccer to get their bodies limber.

On Feb. 2, when Ryom celebrated her birthday, Kim Kyu-eun, a South Korean Olympic pairs skater, gave her a gift of cosmetics. The North as well as also South Koreans trained together last summer with Marcotte in Montreal, alongside pairs teams through Canada as well as also the United States.

Kim Hyon-son, the North Koreans’ primary coach, cooked kimchi for the South Koreans in Montreal. as well as also Meagan Duhamel, a two-time world champion pairs skater as well as also Marcotte’s wife, took the North Koreans shopping.

“Everyone is actually genuinely supportive of them,” said Alex Kam, the South Korean skating partner of Kim Kyu-eun. “the idea’s Great to see how sports brings everyone together without boundaries.”

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“They’re not even close to medal contenders,” said Bruno Marcotte, right, a prominent Canadian coach who has assisted the North Koreans over the last year. “yet I’m so happy they’re here because they belong here. They’re a world-class- level team.”

Credit
Yonhap/European Pressphoto Agency

In their few international competitions, Ryom as well as also Kim have remained assured as well as also composed, as they were on Wednesday. They finished 15th at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships.

Last September, they were self-possessed, if not flawless, in qualifying for the Olympics at a competition in Germany. There they traveled without security as well as also sometimes left the rink unaccompanied by their coach or a team official.

In a sport of which forbids political displays, Ryom as well as also Kim on Wednesday did not wear pins commonly worn by North Koreans, depicting the former leaders Kim Il-sung as well as also Kim Jong-il, the grandfather as well as also father of the current leader.

Both skaters are listed on their official bios as students. They live in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where the more privileged citizens live. At the qualifying event in Germany, Ryom declared, “I want to continue to improve until I become world champion.”

There is actually considerable room for improvement. For one thing, the North Koreans, who seldom compete abroad, have found the idea challenging to train with three various other Olympic pairs on the ice at the same time. There have been several near collisions.

“One of the questions they ask me is actually, ‘What can we do to get better?’” Marcotte, the coach, said. “My first answer is actually, they need to compete more often. The more they are exposed to competition, they will understand what they need to get their scores better as well as also the more familiar they will be to the judges.”

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