GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- When the South Korean ice dance couple of Min Yu-ra and Alexander Gamelin decided to choose "Arirang," a Korean folk ballad, as their free dance music for the 2017-2018 Olympic season, their coaches and friends opposed the plan.
Their coaches had tried to stop them, saying the audience and even judges would hardly understand the meaning and feeling of such unfamiliar music and rhythm.
But they pushed forward with it and skated to the traditional folk song regarded as one of the perfect symbols of Korean sentiment and culture. They stuck to it because their "Arirang" free dance is not just a skating program for a competition but also a tribute to their home country.
Min, born in Torrance, California, to South Korean parents, had maintained citizenship in both the United States and South Korea. But she chose South Korea as her only home nation before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Her partner Gamelin, from Boston, Massachusetts, was naturalized last year to represent South Korea at the Olympics.
The two teamed up in 2015 and have participated in international competitions under the South Korean flag as the International Skating Union requires only one member of a tandem has to be South Korean. However, at the Olympics, both members of a duo must be of the same citizenship to compete.
With the PyeongChang Olympics getting closer, the American-Korean couple started gaining media attention and fan support as they were the only ice dance team in South Korea competing in the international competition.
In the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships held in Gangneung, the current sub-host city of the Olympics, they received a huge applause and cheers from the home crowd.
And at the PyeongChang Olympics and at the same ice rink, they heard louder cheers and support from the audience than they had ever heard before.
"At the Olympics, it was a different level," Gamelin said. "We knew we would have support from the crowd, but what happened here, it far exceeded what I expected. It just was overwhelming. All the cheers and support and everything we've got are incredible."
For the Korean fans and for the country that gave them a chance to be on the Olympic ice, they finally performed the "Arirang" free dance in front of grateful supporters Friday.
Their traditional costumes and every movement of steps and sequences were well-harmonized with the music sung by Korean singer Sohyang.
When the music ended, the arena burst into thunderous applause, cheers and shouts by the home crowd, who held their breath during the familiar tune that played for 4 minutes, 5 seconds.
"The program was so easy, I breezed through it. The whole crowd was with us, and we were with the crowd," Min said. "The whole performance was just amazing."
It was more special for Gamelin who wanted to show his best to his new country, which welcomed him and let him skate at the Olympics.
"Since I got the Korean citizenship, I really wanted to give back to this country that has given me so much and so much opportunity," he said. "We choreographed our free dance for the Korean people to give back everything that they give to us. In our free dance, we want to share our feelings and emotion of the story with them."
Now the couple is eying for their second Olympics four year later. And they will come up with Korean songs as well.
"With our 'Arirang' free dance, I think many people knew that there are ice dance figure skaters in Korea, as well as ladies' singles and men's singles skaters," Min said. "In the coming four years, we will try harder to improve ourselves and have better scores. Of course, we will use Korean songs." (Yonhap)