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[PyeongChang 2018] NK figure skaters get in 1st practice; short trackers rest

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The North Korean figure skating duo of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik got in their first practice on Friday, one day after arriving in South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Two North Korean short track speed skaters, meanwhile, skipped their scheduled morning practice here in Gangneung, the host of all ice events during the Feb. 9-25 Olympics.

Ryom and Kim are among 22 North Korean athletes set to participate in PyeongChang 2018, the first Winter Games to take place in South Korea. This is also the first time North Korea has sent athletes to an Olympics in South Korea, as Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.

Ryom and Kim were on the 32-member delegation that checked in to Gangneung Olympic Village late Thursday, but there was no rest for the weary. They hit the ice at Gangneung Ice Arena just after 9 a.m. and put in about 40 minutes of work. For the entire practice, the two had the ice to themselves.

After a brief warmup, Ryom and Kim gradually increased the intensity of their practice. They performed the ever-difficult death spiral multiple times -- with Kim in a pivot position, holding Ryom's hand as she circled around, her body nearly parallel to the ice -- while mixing in spins and step sequences. They didn't attempt any jumps during their session.

The North Korean figure skating pairs team of Kim Ju-sik (L) and Ryom Tae-ok practice at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 2, 2018. (Yonhap)
The North Korean figure skating pairs team of Kim Ju-sik (L) and Ryom Tae-ok practice at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, on Feb. 2, 2018. (Yonhap)

Kim, a 25-year-old listed at 175 centimeters, and Ryom, a petite, 149cm skater who turned 19 Friday, cut graceful figures as they covered the entire ice surface.

The two left the arena without speaking to the media. An official working at the venue explained that the mixed zone wasn't yet properly set up and that the skaters had informed him earlier that they wouldn't pass through the area.

The North also has athletes in cross-country skiing and alpine skiing, but Ryom and Kim are by far the most accomplished athletes of the current delegation.

Last weekend, they captured the bronze medal at the International Skating Union Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Taiwan, with a personal best score of 184.98 points. The bronze was North Korea's first medal at an ISU-sanctioned event.

The duo also won bronze at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan.

Ryom and Kim will have plenty of time to get ready since their competition won't begin until Feb. 14 with the pairs short program.

More than a dozen journalists watched the practice and a few TV cameras tracked their moves -- such was the fascination with these skaters.

Elsewhere in Gangneung, North Korean short track speed skaters Jong Kwang-bom and Choe Un-song were nowhere to be found for their official practice session at a local university rink. North Korea was supposed to join Belarus and Poland from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.

There is an evening practice session for Jong and Choe scheduled from 7 p.m. to 7:50 p.m. at Gangneung Ice Arena, alongside Italy and France. Gangneung Ice Arena will host both short track and figure skating events during the Olympics.

Meanwhile in PyeongChang, three alpine skiers and three cross-country skiers from North Korea all skipped their morning practice sessions.

Yongpyong Alpine Centre, which will host technical events of slalom and giant slalom, scheduled training sessions from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but none of Choi Myong-gwang, Kang Song-il and Kim Ryon-hyang showed up.

Alpensia Cross-Country Centre announced its practice time would be from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., but Han Chun-gyong, Pak Il-chol and Ri Yong-gum didn't sign up.

An official with the Olympic organizing committee said athletes must register beforehand to secure their training time, but there were no such applications from North Korea. (Yonhap)

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