Gangneung, South Korea – A pair of smiling North Korean skaters carried out lifts, death spirals and other difficult moves during practices ahead of the Winter Olympics, drawing applause from South Korean spectators at Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday.
The duo, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, is the focus of intense media attention as they were the only North Korean athletes who were initially qualified to compete in the Pyeongchang Games before their Olympic committee missed a confirmation deadline. The International Olympic Committee later allowed them and 20 other athletes to compete in the February 9-25 games in special entries given to the North as it worked out a set of Olympics-related rapprochement deals with South Korea.
Unlike many other North Korean athletes who looked serious and rarely answered reporters’ questions, the duo appeared more natural and often smiled when they practiced and passed through a mixed zone – an area where athletes go through after games or training.
Ryom, who turned 19 on Friday, already got the nickname “angel of smile” by some South Korean media outlets, after she waved and smiled broadly when she arrived at the Gangneung athletes’ village on Thursday evening.
“I feel good,” she told reporters in brief comments after training with Kim in the second practice at the venue since their arrival in South Korea.