North Korean skaters who trained in Montreal cleared to compete at Olympics

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.

Montreal’s Bruno Marcotte worked with Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik last summer, helping the North Korean duo secure an Olympic berth(CBC)

“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.

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.

It’s also unclear which flags and anthems would be used, though South Korea has suggested athletes from the two Koreas could march together during the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics, which run from Feb. 9 through 25. 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.

North Korea did not have any athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

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