On Friday afternoon, in the small Bavarian ski-town of Oberstdorf, figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-sik became the first North Korean athletes to qualify for South Korea’s 2018 Winter Olympics — a development that could have diplomatic implications as well as sporting ones.
The pair — who perform to the music of The Beatles and have been training in Canada — produced an impressive free-skate performance to secure one of the final Olympic spots up for grabs at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.
Ryom, 18 and 25-year-old Kim finished 15th at the World Championships last season and spent the summer training in Montreal under French coach, Bruno Marcotte.
Their qualification will be welcome news to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who earlier this month told CNN that North Korean participation in PyeongChang will “provide a very good opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation.”
Tensions in the region have been heightened since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent two ballistic missiles over Japan and also set off his sixth, most powerful nuclear test on September 3.
President Donald Trump has also warned that the US will rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if it kept up its threats against America and its allies.
The Winter Olympics begin in February just 40 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has repeatedly stressed how keen it is to have North Korea take part.
In fact, the IOC has been supporting several North Korean athletes in their attempts to qualify — providing them with equipment, travel and accommodation — and also talked about the possibility of granting wild cards.
North Korean speed skaters and Nordic skiers still have the chance to qualify, but even if they do make the grade there is no guarantee they will make it to PyongChang.
The final decision rest with the North Korea Olympic Committee, who boycotted the summer Olympics in Seoul 30 years ago.