OBERSTDORF, Germany (Reuters) - North Korea on Friday secured its presence at South Korea’s Pyeongchang Olympics in February with figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik grabbing one of the last qualifying spots on offer at the Nebelhorn trophy.
The pair’s Olympic qualification is seen as positive development amid an escalating crisis on the Korean peninsula and the potential complications this could have for the Games.
The International Olympic Committee was eager to have North Korean athletes at the Games and has been supporting several of them in terms of equipment, travel and accommodation in their efforts to qualify.
North Korean speed skaters and Nordic skiers could join the figure skaters with their own qualifiers coming up.
The Pyongyang natives successfully completed a solid short program to music by the Beatles on Thursday and produced an even better free skate performance to “Je suis qu‘une chanson” to make sure of one of five Olympic qualifying spots on offer.
Kim pumped his fists at the end of their routine, hugging his partner before a team official wrapped a jacket over him.
The International Skating Union (ISU) confirmed their qualification for Pyeongchang, with Russia and Germany, who were top, having already qualified for the Games in South Korea.
The final decision regarding their Olympic participation rests with the North Korean Olympic committee which needs to give the green light.
North Korea did not have any athletes at the 2014 Sochi winter Games.
Tension on the Korean peninsula has risen in recent weeks as North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump exchanged war-like threats and insults over the North’s nuclear and missile development program.
The North has accused Trump of declaring war after he warned Kim’s regime would not last if he persisted in threatening the United States and its allies, having earlier warned North Korea would be totally destroyed in such an event.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in July the North will be given until the last minute to decide whether it will take part in the Olympics.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond