North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik practise their routine at the Gangneung Ice Arena. Photo: Reuters/ Kim Hong-Ji
North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik practise their routine at the Gangneung Ice Arena. Photo: Reuters/ Kim Hong-Ji

They certainly created a stir when they stepped on to the ice. Even during a practice session, the North Korean figure skating pair of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik turned heads at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

“‘Ohh, North Korea!’” several female volunteers murmured excitedly, holding their smartphones aloft,” the CBC television network reported. “It was the only practice the volunteers bothered to record that day, they conceded.”

The pair have made quite an impact in the South Korean media, with Ryom earning the nickname of the “Angel of Smiles” because of the 19-year-old’s warm approach.

But when the serious business of competition starts on Wednesday, they have a modest goal.

“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, said after the practice session.

“The focus is 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,” he added.

Ryom and Kim recorded their personal best in the short program, 65.25 points, at a competition held in Taiwan, where they a won bronze.

Against the best in the world, winning a similar color medal would be nothing short of a miracle on ice.

Hirscher makes dream come true

It is finally over. Marcel Hirscher, the greatest skier of his generation, ended his long wait for an Olympic gold medal when he claimed the top spot in the men’s combined event after a blistering slalom run.

The Austrian alpine legend, who has won the last six World Cup titles and is poised to claim a seventh, climbed from an unexpectedly low 12th place after the downhill segment at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre to pip France’s Alexis Pinturault by 0.23 seconds.

“I’m super happy because now this stupid question [about whether] I’m thinking that my career is perfect without a gold medal is gone away,” he told the media conference.

“I killed it. It is something special but really unexpected. We were not sure two weeks ago if I would compete in the combined or not,” he added.

Hirscher had made it clear that this would be his last Olympics. The 28-year-old has dominated the sport but was still desperate to strike gold. “If I’m thinking that my career is perfect without a gold medal, now this question is deleted,” he added.

Eighth wonder of skating world

Claudia Pechstein is probably the fastest grandma in the world. When she straps on her skates, she will be hitting more than 50 kilometers an hour when she lines up for the 5,000 meters speed skating competition on Friday.

Just short of her 46th birthday, it usually takes her more than a few seconds to remember her first Olympics in 1992. But since then, the German super skater has won five Olympic golds, two silvers and two bronzes.

In fact, nine of her 17 competitors in South Korea were not even born when she won her first Olympic medal, a bronze at those 1992 Games in Albertville, France.

“I’m Grandma!” she told the New York Times. “[But] maybe I’ll even try for another Olympics. An eighth one! Why not?”

Japanese skater fails drugs test

Kei Saito has had a Winter Olympics to forget. The Japanese short track speed skater was expelled from the Games on Tuesday for failing an out-of-competition drugs test.

He was provisionally suspended after testing positive for masking agent acetazolamide and a final ruling will be issued after the Games, the Court of Arbitration for Sport stated. Masking agents are often used to cover up banned performance-enhancing substances.

“I am shocked by this as I have never tried to commit doping,” Saito said in a statement. “I have been trained in anti-doping. I have never taken a steroid, so there is no need for me to mask something, and I never had to drop weight by using this medicine.”

– with Reuters and AFP