After two years of radio silence, North Korea finally picked up the phone to South Korea for some diplomatic talks that could actually bring a little peace and stability to the area. It would seem that Kim Jong Un woke up on January first, thought “New Year, new me!” and decided to call up his southern neighbours to mend the fence — or militarized border. The first little olive branch between the countries comes in the form of two figure skaters from North Korea who are going to compete along with the rest of the world in the PyeongChang Olympics next month.
Ryom Tae Ok, 18, and Kim Ju Sik, 25, qualified for the Games in September but North Korea let the October deadline for accepting their invitation to PyeongChang go by without a response. After Kim said in his New Year’s address that he wanted to reopen communications with South Korea and hoped that they would allow North Korea to be represented at the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee agreed to make an exception.
Not only will the skaters be able to compete, South Korea has invited the Northern team to walk with the hosts in the opening ceremonies. When you stop threatening nuclear war for a second to request a chance to compete in figure skating, you get some special treatment. Officials say that having North Korea at the games eases the minds of many who were concerned that they might stage some sort of attack while delegations from almost every nation in the world were in South Korea.
The skaters NK is sending also have a special Canadian connection: Ryom and Kim spent a few months this past summer training in Quebec with Canadian coach and decorated former competitor Bruno Marcotte. He told CTV that he first saw the duo at the World Championships where they approached him and asked to train with him. He says he instantly recognized their talent.
“I really felt that I could bring something to the table to help them to grow as a pair,” he said, “They just bring so much passion, so much charisma and they have so much love for the sport.” In the two months they spent together, Marcotte says they didn’t get into politics at all.
“Most of our conversation was ‘how can we be better, how can we one day be at the top of the podium at worlds,'” he said, “Everything was about sports.” As fascinating as it would be to talk world politics with two people who have spent their whole lives in North Korea, we can imagine that sticking to skating is probably for the best.
The laser focus of the Canadian coaching must have paid off though, because the skaters qualified for the Olympics shortly after. The Quebec team says that they were happy to be able to help the Ryom and Kim and that their participation is a testament to the uniting power of sport. If the first step to brokering peace on the Korean Peninsula is letting a figure skating team compete, that’s pretty incredible.
We hope that Marcotte’s guidance is just as good for his Canadian charges, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. The couple are medal contenders and we’re counting on them (and Tessa and Scott!) to get us on that podium.