Yuna Kim: ‘It will be difficult’ to skate in Olympic exhibition gala

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UNITED NATIONS — Figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim‘s earliest powerful memory of the Olympics was actually of the Summer Games.

“I first experienced the spirit of the Olympic Games and the power of sport when I was a 10-year-old watching the South and North Korean delegations walking into [Sydney 2000] Olympic Stadium together,” for the Opening Ceremony, she said Monday.

Kim, perhaps the most famous person in South Korea, spoke in English to the United Nations General Assembly in New York as a goodwill ambassador for the first Winter Games in South Korea.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted the traditional Olympic Truce, which calls on all nations to cease hostilities during the time surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics in February and March.

Though Kim retired after following her 2010 Olympic gold with silver in 2014, she could be very visible during the PyeongChang Games.

She is considered the favorite to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9. That is if South Korean organizers go the traditional route of choosing an Olympic hero.

In 1988, at the only Summer Olympics in South Korea in Seoul, three South Koreans lit the cauldron simultaneously — a teacher, a high school student and a marathoner at those Games.

“No one knows who will be the last torch bearer and who will be lighting the cauldron,” Kim said later Monday in a press conference, speaking in Korean, “but if given the opportunity, of course it would be an honor.”

Kim could also make a well-publicized appearance on the final day of the Games at the figure skating exhibition gala.

Many ticket holders may hope that she does, given it is the second-highest-priced event of the Games behind the men’s hockey final.

She almost dismissed the notion Monday because, unlike many high-profile skaters in retirement, she has not been performing in ice shows that would keep her skating skills sharp.

“I have not been skating professionally, so as an athlete, it might be a little bit difficult to participate at the exhibition gala,” she said.

Two active skaters who could receive plenty of attention in PyeongChang are the North Korean pair of Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik.

They are the only North Korean athletes in any sport to qualify Olympic entry spots for their nation. But it’s unknown if those spots will be filled.

North Korea has not submitted an application to participate in the Games, said Do Jong-hwan, South Korea’s minister of culture, sport and tourism.

“We are very much waiting for them to come, and we are very much hopeful that they will participate at the Games,” he said.

A PyeongChang Olympic spokesperson said that 82 nations have delivered applications so far. That’s close to the number of nations expected to compete at the Winter Games.

In 2014, a Winter Olympics record 88 nations and one independent Olympic participant took part.

The last nations to qualify Olympic figure skating spots in September needed to confirm their plans to the International Skating Union to use those spots by Oct. 30.

The ISU has not responded to a Tuesday morning email asking if North Korea confirmed that it plans to use its pairs spot by the deadline.

“I’m also very curious and waiting with a little bit of uncertainty and hopeful that North Korean athletes will participate [in PyeongChang],” Kim said. “When I was an athlete, there was no opportunity to meet North Korean athletes.”

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