North Korean pair eye points not prizes, coach says

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - North Korean pair figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik will chase the modest goal of recording a personal best score when they compete at the Pyeongchang Olympics, a coach who works with them said on Tuesday.

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“The expectations I have for them are in terms of scores. I would like them to have a personal best for the competition,” Bruno Marcotte, a Canadian coach who consults with the pair, told Reuters after a practice at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

“The focus in on the fact that every time they perform, their score keeps getting better. If they can score in the high 60s in their short program or close to 70, that would be great. And the goal for the long program is above 125.”

The pair recorded their current personal best in the short program, 65.25 points, at a competition where they won bronze last month in Taiwan. They also recorded their best total score, 184.98, at that competition.

They achieved their personal best in the long program, 119.90 points, last year.

In late September, the skaters were the first North Koreans to qualify for the Games after they finished in the top six at a competition in Germany.

North Korea did not have any athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. They have sent 22 athletes to compete in Pyeongchang, including 12 ice hockey players in a combined North and South Korean women’s team.

Ryom, 19, and Kim, 25, spent about two months in Montreal last summer to train with Marcotte.

Marcotte told Reuters last year that the pair had great potential but they needed more power and consistency to be a threat. [nL8N1NN1OL]

They will skate their short program at the Pyeongchang Games on Wednesday, and their long program a day later.

Marcotte said the skaters hadn’t discussed their thoughts about taking part in the Olympics in South Korea with him.

North Korea’s presence in Pyeongchang is viewed as a sign of easing tensions over its nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North and South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Tensions escalated dramatically last year as the regime of Kim Jong Un stepped up its program aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty