North Korea

AP

South Korea Olympic officials relieved North Korea qualified

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean Olympic officials said they were pleased after a North Korean figure skating pair became the nation’s first athletes to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, hoping it might help improve strained relations between the countries.

Tension has been rising recently due to North Korea’s nuclear test and multiple missile launches that also triggered an escalating war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the Winter Games.

Sung Baikyou of PyeongChang’s organizing committee said Saturday the achievement by North Korean skaters could make it easier to persuade the North to participate.

“It widens the room for more talks regarding North Korea’s potential Olympic participation, including inviting its organized cheering groups,” which Pyongyang frequently sends to international events to support its athletes, Sung said.

It’s still uncertain whether North Korea would allow the skaters to compete in PyeongChang, a ski resort town 50 miles south of the heavily-armed inter-Korean border.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea’s capital Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months as it accelerated its nuclear and missile development.

The IOC is trying to calm concern about the PyeongChang Games, but France has said its Olympic team will not travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.

IOC President Thomas Bach has expressed hope North Korea will take part.

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North Korea qualifies for PyeongChang Winter Olympics

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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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North Korea pair in Olympic qualifying spot after short program

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North Korea is one free skate away from qualifying athletes for the PyeongChang Olympics.

Pairs skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed third in qualifying standings in the short program of the final Olympic selection event in Germany on Thursday.

Ryom, 18, and Kim, 25, will clinch North Korea’s first berth in any sport for PyeongChang if they finish in the top five following Friday’s free skate.

Performing to Beatles music, they landed side-by-side triple toe loops (ruled under-rotated) and a throw triple Salchow on Thursday.

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Nations that previously qualified Olympic pairs spots (Russia, Germany, Canada, USA) cannot qualify any more pairs for PyeongChang this week, so they are excluded from qualifying standings.

The North Koreans’ score was 60.19 points, which is 4.33 shy of their best from last season. Still, they go into Friday with a 5.83-point lead over the sixth-place team as 11 nations overall bid for the five Olympic spots.

Ryom and Kim placed 15th at last season’s world championships, where they spoke briefly to The Associated Press through a translator.

Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since boycotting Seoul 1988, North Korea didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010.

North and South Korea have shown 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.

If Ryom and Kim do not finish in the top five, North Korea could still qualify Alpine or cross-country skiers closer to the Winter Games.

There have also been reports that North Korean athletes could be granted special invitations without having to qualify.

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