HELSINKI (AP) — North Korea’s figure skaters are aiming for the Olympics — and they’re using The Beatles.
Ryom Tae Ok and her partner Kim Ju Sik impressed observers by finishing 15th of 28 pairs at the world championships on Thursday. That’s the latest step on a road to next year’s Olympics, which would mean a politically tricky journey to South Korea.
Skating to The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and music by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ryom and Kim soared above expectations in only their third major competition outside their homeland.
Star-struck Ryom said the competition was “very difficult” because she wasn’t used to the large crowd, in comments translated by a team official following Wednesday’s short program. Kim said he was “excited because this is a big competition.”
The pair gave away little more than basic personal data. They’ve skated together for two years and train in the capital Pyongyang. Skating isn’t very popular there, but they’d like to change that, they said.
Asked how they’d feel about competing at the Olympics, Kim said he and Ryom are keen to take part in “a big competition,” but didn’t say how he’d feel about visiting South Korea. A North Korean team official led the pair following a question about how they chose The Beatles’ music. Foreign cultural influence is tightly restricted by the North Korean government.
To qualify for the Olympics, Ryom and Kim will need a good performance in September to take one of four places on offer for pairs at a competition in Germany.
North Korea has a patchy record at the Winter Olympics – it won speed skating medals in 1964 and 1992, but didn’t send any athletes to the Sochi Games in 2014.
When they have gone to the Olympics, North Korean figure skaters have failed to impress. The last time the country sent a pair to the Olympics in 2006, they placed 20th and last in the short program, then withdrew.
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