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A DAY IN THE LIFE

At the Olympics, you might see North Korea’s figure skaters twirl to this beloved Beatles tune

Reuters/Tyrone Siu
“I read the news today, oh boy.”
  • Tripti Lahiri
By Tripti Lahiri

Asia bureau chief

This article is more than 2 years old.

After a New Year’s Day overture by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was met with a warm response from Winter Olympics host South Korea, Pyongyang is now sending nearly two dozen athletes to participate in the games next month. But only two won the right to participate on merit: figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok, 18, and Kim Ju-sik, 25.

They qualified in September, but North Korea’s Olympic committee didn’t confirm their participation before a registration deadline passed. After talks with Olympics officials over how to allow North Korean athletes to participate, the two will be skating in Pyeongchang, the city hosting the Olympics starting Feb. 9. Ryom and Kim made a public appearance in Taiwan yesterday (Jan. 22), where they were practicing for the International Skating Union’s Four Continents championships.

“Pair figure-skating became huge in North Korea ever since Kim Jong-un came into power. In North Korea, the sports the leader is interested in get a lot of attention and support,” inter-Korean sports researcher Seong Moon-jeong, who helped prepare South Korean delegates for the recent Olympics talks with North Korea, told NPR.

When they skated to qualify in Germany in September, their short program was set to an instrumental cover of the Beatles song “A Day in the Life,” rated by some as the best Beatles song ever. Watch them skate to the music at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland, last March. It’s a version of the song performed by English guitarist Jeff Beck.

It’s not clear yet if they’ll reprise the number at the Olympics. The figure-skating competition favors originality and it can be a big risk to go back to a previously performed program, but it does happen sometimes. Yet “A Day in the Life” could be oddly perfect for our times, especially with a version that features the song’s original lyrics. (For the first time this year, vocals will be allowed in figure-skating music at the Olympics.):

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph

Like many Beatles songs, the lyrics and possible meanings of the song have been dissected at length by fans. One fan proposed this analysis:

A Day in the Life can be looked at as a criticism of our own society. In the song, three key events are depicted; the man who died in the car crash, the movie about the English winning the war, and the holes in Blackburn’s roads. For each one, the lyrics displayed the public’s reaction to each occurrence. After each piece of negative news (in this case the gruesome car crash and the holes), the people could not get enough of it.

Have a listen to the original song, which was first released in 1967 and is considered by many to be the crowning glory of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album:

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