North Korean skaters 'deeply moved' by Southern hospitality

Gangneung (South Korea) (AFP) - North Korean skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik produced another career-best performance in Thursday's Olympic pairs free dance, buoyed by generous support from both sides of the Korean border.

Ryom and Kim qualified for the free dance with a personal-best score in Wednesday's short programme to progress 11th of 16.

And they continued the good work in a polished free-dance routine set to "Je suis qu'une chanson" by Diane Justler.

With North Korea's self-style "Army of Beauties", a 200-strong band of cheerleaders, erupting in song at every triple twist lift and double axel, the pair earned 124.23 points to beat their previous best of 119.90 for a highest ever total of 193.63.

It won't win them a medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Games, but they did win the hearts of the South Koreans in the arena.

After waving to the crowd, the pair left the rink with Kim declaring: "I was very nervous about the competition, but once we went in, the sight of our cheer squad and the southern countrymen cheering together offered great support and stimulation.

"I'd like to express my gratitude to the people of the South. I was deeply moved by the Olympics in the South."

The 19-year-old Ryom and Kim, 25, are the only two of the 22 North Korean athletes at the Games in South Korea to meet Olympic qualifying standards -- the rest got in on a special invitation as part of a landmark agreement that led to some calling this the "Peace Olympics".

The couple's presence at the Games was only confirmed following a sudden rapprochement between the two Koreas after tensions reached fever pitch as Pyongyang carried out a series of weapons tests.

Kim added: "I was nervous in the beginning but once I heard the cheering, I was excited and gained strength. It was hard near the end, but the sound of the cheering picked me up."