On Saturday, the final day of competitive events during the 2018 Winter Olympics, a host of figure skaters took part in an exhibition gala to end the games. And one of the performing duos hailed from South Korea's notoriously hostile neighbor to the north ― the North Korean duo's figure skating exhibition gala routine was the country's final 2018 display on the ice, and it seemed like it went over pretty well.
The figure skating pair, named Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, previously competed in the 2018 Winter Games' actual figure skating competitions ― under the guidance of Canadian figure skating coach Bruno Marcotte, no less ― but on Saturday, they were merely performing an exhibition routine for the Olympics crowd.
A lot of people on Twitter seemed pretty charmed by the duo, which makes some sense ― North Korean athletes rarely enjoy a global spotlight, thanks to the intensely isolated and repressive nature of the country's government, and it's only natural to take interest in something you don't get to see that often. The routine wasn't performed in an effort to win a medal, to be clear, as the exhibition figure skating routines at the end of the games are just for fun.
The skaters put on an energetic routine, even though they didn't fare so well during the competitive portion of the Olympics. Ryom and Kim failed to win any medals in these games, but nonetheless, they turned out for the exhibition on Saturday.
It's worth noting that North Korea's involvement in the Olympics ― as part of a unified Korean team, a symbolic show of unity amid escalating tensions ― is not without controversy. The North Korean government is widely regarded as one of the most oppressive on Earth, with political dissidents and people who defy the regime at risk of being sent to forced labor camps, where starvation, torture, and death are reportedly rampant.
Indeed, even the North Korean cheerleaders (who've drawn a lot of positive attention throughout the games) are not necessarily protected from such consequences, as some were reportedly sent to a labor camp back in 2005. As such, some observers have argued it's inappropriate to celebrate North Korea's presence at the games, given the potentially dire stakes for its athletes and cheerleaders alike if they don't perform up to expectations.
That said, it's impossible to deny that Ryom and Kim are accomplished figure skaters, and that they've won some fans throughout the 2018 Winter Games. For North Korean athletes, a high-profile international event like the Olympics may be the only opportunity they'll ever have to appeal to a wider global audience, and the figure skating pair have definitely accomplished that in PyeongChang.
It remains to be seen whether North and South Korea's unexpected show of unity at the Olympics translates into anything politically meaningful once they're over. That said, as a display on the international stage, it's hard to deny that the unified team experiment went over well, even though it may have come at a cost to the readiness of some of the countries' athletes.
If you're keen to check out the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, you won't have much longer to wait. It'll be taking place early on the morning of Sunday, Feb 25, at 6:00 a.m. ET, but it'll actually be aired in primetime by NBC later that same night, at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you're a genuine Winter Olympics junkie, you won't want to miss it, because it'll be your last taste of the seasonal event until the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing rolls around.