GANGNEUNG, South Korea – American-born ice dancers Alex Gamelin and Yura Min grabbed headlines in their Olympic debut, but for a reason they never expected: The back of Min’s costume came unhooked about 20 seconds into their performance, forcing her to continue their routine while struggling to keep her top in place.
“Despite the wardrobe malfunction, it was awesome,” Min said of their Olympic debut.
While they ended up in ninth place in the sport as a team, the duo from Detroit will step onto the ice on Monday for their next competition at the PyeongChang Olympics – and they will do so once again while representing South Korea.
Both Gamelin, 24, and Min, 22, were born in the United States, but attaining dual citizenship from South Korea allowed them to vie for a spot on the country’s figure skating team. Min, a Korean-American from Torrance, California, has been a dual citizen since 2011.
For Gamelin, being good enough to make the South Korean squad was just half the battle. He also needed to pass the citizenship exam, which he took last year.
“I had to do some studying. I had to pass a language test,” he said, adding that the citizenship interview was in Korean.
Like many other athletes who have gone to impressive lengths to compete in the Winter Olympics, they say these games are a dream fulfilled.
Their world standing qualified them to compete in the Olympics – the first time in 16 years that South Korea is being represented in ice dance. The country hasn’t had qualified candidates like Min and Gamelin for ice dance since the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games.
Although Min said they’re now seen as the “wardrobe malfunction team,” they’re hoping for better results in the individual competition. If they do well, they move on to the free dance on Tuesday.
It’s been a long way from the Novi Ice Arena in Michigan to the Gangneung Ice Arena, where the home country crowd clapped and cheered last Sunday as Gamelin and Min entered the rink and began their sultry performance to the Latin hit “Despacito.”
The idea wouldn’t have become a reality if it weren’t for Min convincing Gamelin to set their sights on PyeongChang.
Gamelin used to skate competitively with his twin sister, but retired in April 2015 when it was challenging to stay ahead of the competition and the sport became a financial strain on the family.
“Figure skating is one of the most expensive sports in the world. Two skaters in the family just wasn’t sustainable anymore,” Gamelin said.
But he changed his mind two months later in July 2015, and returned to the sport when Min asked him to be her partner.
“He thought it was a joke,” Min said.
They knew each other from the Novi Ice Arena, where they both trained but with different partners.
“His mom and dad and sister had a meeting together without Alex and confronted Alex to [convince him to] skate together,” Min said about how they paired up.
But competing as a new team in an experienced and deep American field only made getting to the Olympics that much more challenging. That’s why they looked to South Korea.
What Gamelin and Min decided to do is no different than other athletes who are also competing as naturalized citizens for South Korea.
“People don’t realize what a hard journey it will take to get here. We’re among the athletes that were lucky to make it here,” Min said.
Like Gamelin, she understood the financial difficulties of remaining in the sport.
“My parents funded me my entire career. They helped me throughout all of this,” she said.
To ensure that finances wouldn’t be a burden, Gamelin said they have a GoFundMe page for the public to help support them from PyeongChang to Beijing, where the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held, and beyond.
Even if finances weren’t an issue, Gamelin said he doesn’t think his Olympic dream would’ve materialized for him and his sister. Just 24 teams are able to qualify for the Olympics in ice dancing.
“They work hard. They have a good attitude,” one of their coaches, Igor Shpilband, said of Min and Gamelin.
Gamelin said he is proud to compete for South Korea and doesn’t believe it’s a “huge difference” from representing Team USA.
“It ties into the Olympic theme of peace,” he said, “and that we’re really all not that different.”