North Korea skaters seek Olympic bid, and diplomats cheer

OBERSTDORF, Germany — The next effort to defuse the nuclear brinksmanship over North Korea’s missile and bomb testing may come, not from diplomats, but from a pair of North Korean figure skaters who perform to music by the Beatles.

An obscure competition on Thursday and Friday here in Bavaria has gained geopolitical urgency as the pairs team of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik seek to become the first North Korean athletes to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“We’re aware there is a lot of interest,” Kim Hyon-son, who coaches the pair, said after a training session on Wednesday, speaking briefly through an interpreter.

Despite the nuclear tests, missile launches and other saber-rattling threats, North Korea has signaled recently that it would consider participating in the Games. Its four-person skating delegation here appears somewhat guarded but approachable and friendly.

And no one would be more relieved by a North Korean triumph of sequins and Salchows this week than the International Olympic Committee and South Korean officials. They have stated adamantly and repeatedly a desire to have North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated countries, compete in what is being promoted as the Games of Peace.

While the Olympics have been tainted by staggering costs and endemic corruption, they still strive for the ideal that sport can bring people together even as governments remain hostile and apart.

At the United Nations last week, Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, called North Korea’s aggressive behavior “extremely deplorable.” But he has promoted diplomacy with the North and opposes military action. Mr. Moon struck a cautiously hopeful tone at a ceremony to unveil the design of the 2018 Olympic medals at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

South Korea would embark on a “difficult but meaningful challenge” in seeking to have a tranquil Games with North Korea participating, he said in a speech.

If North Korean athletes fail to qualify, Olympic officials have said they will consider wild-card entries for North Korean athletes to encourage the country to participate. A plan to have a delegation of North Korean athletes and officials march through the demilitarized zone to the Games as a peace gesture remains under consideration.

“Tensions are high now, but because of that, peace is all the more needed,” Mr. Moon said. “If the two Koreas come together at this point in time, it will become a great opportunity to send a message of reconciliation and peace to the world.”

He added, “I do not think it is impossible.”

Read more at The New York Times.