North Korean Figure Skaters Qualify for Olympics, Possibly Easing Tensions

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, the South Korean capital. And North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-un, is highly unpredictable.

When the skaters were asked minutes after Friday’s performance if they hoped to compete at the Games, their coach, Kim Hyon-son, stepped in and said, “It is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to decide whether they will participate or not.”

The North Koreans appeared relaxed and open — to a point — at a second meeting with reporters after the competition here, the Nebelhorn Trophy, but requested that no questions be asked about the Olympics. Their reluctance probably stemmed from the fact that the decision will not be theirs, said Bruno Marcotte, a prominent French Canadian coach who also works with the skaters.

“It’s out of their hands,” he said.

Clearly, though, the outcome was important to North Korea. It has invested considerable time and money to make Ms. Ryom and Mr. Kim eligible for the Winter Games and respected at the international level. The skaters trained over the summer in Montreal with Mr. Marcotte, whose wife, Meagan Duhamel, is a two-time world pairs champion. And the pressure of a suitable performance here seemed to weigh on Ri Chol-un, an official with the North Korean skating federation.

“I’ll sleep after the long program,” Mr. Ri had told Mr. Marcotte.

Friday’s long program, lasting four minutes, was not flawless. Ms. Ryom and Mr. Kim reduced planned, side-by-side triple Salchows to two rotations instead of three, at Mr. Marcotte’s instruction. The jump had been inconsistent in practice, and there was no need to take an unnecessary risk.

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“I was a little nervous, but the coach comrades, they trusted us and people have been cheering for us,” Mr. Kim, left, said. “We took a lot of motivation from them.”

Credit
Jun Michael Park for The New York Times

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