North Korea qualified its first athletes for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Friday.
At an event in Germany, figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik clinched one of the last five berths in the Olympic pairs field for North Korea. Watch their free skate here.
Ryom, 18, and Kim, 25, could become the first North Koreans to compete at an Olympics hosted by South Korea. North Korea boycotted the 1988 Seoul Games.
As with all figure skating qualifying spots, the National Olympic Committee decides which athletes it sends to the Winter Games. And if they send any athletes at all.
“It is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to decide whether they will participate or not,” the pair’s coach, Kim Hyon Son, said Friday, according to The New York Times.
North Korea’s committee has until Oct. 30 to confirm its intention to participate to the International Skating Union.
It wasn’t certain that North Korea would qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.
Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since the boycott, North Korea didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010.
Ryom and Kim placed 15th at last season’s world championships, where they spoke briefly to The Associated Press through a translator.
They spent most of the summer in Montreal, training under French Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte and sister Julie Marcotte, who choreographed the free skate they used Friday to clinch the Olympics.
After their program, Ryom and Kim each pumped their arms a few times, hugged each other and an older man handing Ryom a North Korean team jacket.
There’s no doubt the skaters are eager to compete in PyeongChang.
“That’s all that matters to them right now is to qualify for the Olympics,” Julie Marcotte said before this week’s competition. “That’s all they want.”
North and South Korea showed solidarity at recent Games.
The nations marched together under one flag at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sydney and Athens. In Rio, North and South Korean gymnasts posed for a selfie together. And North Korea did compete in the two Asian Games hosted by South Korea in the last 30 years, in 2002 and 2014.
Four years ago, a different North Korean pair missed qualifying a Sochi Olympic quota spot by .99 of a point at Nebelhorn Trophy.
North Korea could also qualify skiers or short track speed skaters, though they have none of elite international standing, for PyeongChang before the Winter Games open Feb. 9.
There have also been reports that North Korean athletes could be granted special invitations without having to qualify.
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