TAIPEI - North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik took bronze Friday at the Four Continents championships in Taipei ahead of their highly anticipated Olympic appearance.

Interest in the pair has skyrocketed since North Korea made a surprise announcement earlier this month that it would send a team to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, even though the two sides are still technically at war. The bronze in Taipei is the duo's first medal in an international competition.

Kim, 25, spoke to reporters Friday for the first time since the tournament started, praising the backing the North Korean government has given them. "Our government is very supportive so we can pay full attention to our skating," he told a press conference through a translator.

Asked about the pair's training regime, Kim described it as "flexible" but typically three hours a day on the ice.  He voiced sympathy for rival South Korean pair Kim Kyueun and Alex Kam who had to withdraw from the Taipei competition after Kam was injured.

"I think it's really a shame, so because of this I told myself I have to be extra careful not to get injured," he said. Ryom, 18, said it was "regretful" that the pair had not done better in their first performance Wednesday, which had left them in fourth place.

"Even though we're going to the Olympics, doing our best at each competition is the most important," she added. Ryom and Kim took the podium alongside two US pairs, Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea -- who won gold -- and Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc, in second place.

The North Koreans' free skating performance Friday to "Je ne suis qu'une chanson" sung by Canadian singer Ginette Reno pushed them up to bronze with a score of 184.98 points overall, a personal record. Their short programme routine Wednesday was performed to a Jeff Beck rendition of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life". Ryom and Kim's coach hugged them as they came off the ice Friday and a man in the audience held a sign that read: "PRK Go! Ryom and Kim." They were helped by a disappointing performance Friday from Australian pair Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor, who had been in second place and will also be heading to the Olympics next month.

For US pair Kayne and O'Shea, winning gold at the Four Continents was a big personal achievement following injuries. "I spent many months off the ice where Danny was training by himself," said Kayne. "There were a lot of questions hanging over our head whether we would be able to compete this season," she told reporters.