They’re dubbed the “Garlic Girls” but go by the names Pancake, Yogurt, Steak, Cookie and Sunny – meet the South Korean curlers who are whipping up a recipe for success at the Olympics.
The Koreans, ranked eighth in the world, have emerged medal contenders at the Pyeongchang Games.
After stunning top teams like Canada, Switzerland and Sweden, they were the first to advance to Friday’s semi-finals.
Their giant-killing feats on the ice have drawn big crowds in a country where curling is little known.
Their skills have wooed fans while their affectionate nicknames have added a light-hearted twist to their feats on the ice.
“I think the names are so fun,” said Oh Ja-young, a spectator from Bundang. “But if they weren’t doing so well, I wouldn’t pay attention to their names.”
All of them have “KIM” written on the back of their uniforms, the most common Korean surname that they share.
To minimize confusion, Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Yeong-mi and alternate Kim Cho-hi decided to adopt nicknames – and a brainstorming session took place at the breakfast table.
But in contrast to their fun nicknames, the curlers mean business on ice.
“They play with a lot of passion, very technically sound,” Rick Patzke, chief executive officer of the US Curling Association, told AFP.
“It’s great to see the home crowd getting behind them here.”
The curlers were apparently unprepared for the fervent flag-waving home crowd that packs the stadium each time they play.
They entered the tournament as outsiders and saw the crowds build up as they went from win to win.
“We are surprised that curling can be so welcomed in Korea,” said the team’s coach Kim Min-jung. South Korea sent its first curling team to the Olympics in 2014.
“We’ve always wanted to make curling a more popular and common recreational sport in Korea and we’re happy we are getting there,” Kim added.
Only last month, curling was considered an obscure sport in South Korea.
Now, memes of the South Korean curlers have gone viral online and several fans are posting good-humoured clips mimicking the sport with cleaning supplies.
Despite the sudden spike in the team’s popularity, they are no flash in the pan – they have been in the sport for more than a decade.
Their hometown of Uiseong – a rural town of around 54,000 people famous for garlic farming – built a curling centre in 2006 with funding from the local government.
As a result, many students at Uiseong joined the curling team, including the Olympians.
They struggled with funding for training and struggled to attract fans in the past, but not any more.
“We always thought we could come this far,” said the team coach. “Now I’m careful to say this, but we thought of doing even better.”
But the curlers had no idea they have emerged as Korean celebrities — they switched their mobile phones off at the start of the competition to avoid any distraction.
“They can just tell that they are receiving a lot of attention by the number of fans that come to the stadium,” coach Kim said.
However, Kim added the curlers are aware they are being called the “Garlic Girls” after the hometown’s main product.
“We don’t like garlic,” she said. “We would just like to be called ‘Team Kim’.”
Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky was stripped of his Pyeongchang Winter Olympics bronze medal Thursday after admitting doping, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said.
The 25-year-old was one of 168 Russian athletes who passed rigorous testing to compete as neutrals in Pyeongchang after Russia were banned over a major doping scandal.
“The athlete has admitted the anti-doping rule violation; he is disqualified from the mixed doubles curling event,” the court said in a statement.
Krushelnitsky, who won mixed doubles bronze along with his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, has protested his innocence and officials have hinted at foul play.
But Krushelnitsky decided not to contest Thursday’s CAS hearing, saying it was “stupid to deny” testing positive for meldonium, an endurance booster.
However, CAS said Krushelnitsky, who is provisionally suspended, “reserved his rights to seek the elimination or reduction of any period of ineligibility based on ‘no fault or negligence’ following the conclusion of the Games”.
The International Olympic Committee will this week decide whether to lift Russia’s suspension in time for Russian athletes to carry the national flag at Sunday’s closing ceremony, taking into account the conduct of their athletes in Pyeongchang.
Norway’s Kristin Skaslien and Magnus Nedregotten lost out to Krushelnitsky and Bryzgalova in the bronze medal play-off.
Reallocating the medal is down to the World Curling Federation and the International Olympic Committee, CAS said.
“If the phone rings during the final sprint, I call back a few minutes later,” smiles Espen Thoresen, an online community manager. In Norway, work sometimes comes second during the Winter Olympics.
Norwegians – born with skis on their feet, as one saying goes – go wild every four years for the sporting rendezvous at which they excel. And so they follow the Games closely, even in the workplace.
And with their bosses’ blessings, to boot.
At Kahoot, a young Oslo start-up that makes educational apps, a big flat screen TV on the wall of the common area is showing the Vikings’ latest exploits thousands of miles away in Pyeongchang.
On this day, two employees – both Norwegian, though the staff here is almost as international as the Olympic Games – drop themselves into two armchairs to follow the men’s Nordic combined where athletes compete in cross-country skiing and ski jumping.
Because of the time difference, “the Olympics are on in the morning here, so you can give yourself a few small breaks,” says Thoresen, who ignores his work phone when the events get exciting.
“And it’s finished by 2:00 pm. Then it’s full steam ahead for the rest of the day so we still get a lot of work done in addition to watching the Olympics,” he explains.
He’s far from alone.
Almost a quarter of Norwegians said before the Games started that they planned to watch the olympics on work time, according to a poll conducted by Norstat for cable TV operator Get TDC.
Among men, 12 percent said they would even defy their boss if he or she banned employees from watching during work time.
That hasn’t been necessary at Kahoot.
“It’s tradition in Norway to gather children during class time to watch some of the most exciting events,” says co-founder Asmund Furuseth.
“So when you start working, it feels normal to be allowed to watch the olympics even if you’re at work. Norwegians are good about prioritising their workday.”
During the Winter Olympics, Norway falls into “a kind of state of emergency”, according to Vegard Einan, vice president of the Parat trade union.
#Olympics-summary:— Eurosport Sverige (@EurosportSE) February 19, 2018
You sleep: Norway won a gold
You wake up: Norway won a gold
You blink: Norway won a gold
You eat: Norway won a gold
“To watch the end of a relay, or a speed skating race, or ski jumping or a downhill without answering the phone is generally accepted,” he explains.
And, he insists, it has no negative impact on Norwegians’ work: “It makes people happy and we know that happiness in the workplace increases productivity.”
Employers are as passionate about the Games as their employees.
“My experience is that companies find good solutions and manage to combine the wish to watch the main sporting events and productivity,” says Nina Melsom of the employers’ organisation NHO.
In 2014, Oslo’s then-mayor Fabian Stang made headlines when he suggested that the city’s 55,000 municipal employees ought to abstain from watching the Sochi Winter Games during work time. An outcry ensued, and he had to soften his stance.
Twenty years earlier, Norway was so absorbed by the Olympics it was hosting in Lillehammer that a robber took advantage of the opportunity to make off with a national treasure: Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” was nabbed from an Oslo museum just hours before the opening ceremony.
“Of course the Olympics could mean a drop in efficiency (at work) in the short term,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who has been seen absorbed by competitions on her tablet and mobile phone.
“But if Norway does well, people are happy and this happiness helps increase efficiency,” she told TV Norge last week.
And, let it be said, Norway is not just doing well, it is doing excellently.
The country of less than 5.3 million inhabitants is currently dominating the medal standings in Pyeongchang – its most prolific Games ever.
Norway on top of Olympic Medal count. Population 5.3 million.— Peter Mansbridge (@petermansbridge) February 19, 2018
That's roughly one seventh the size of Canada, almost one seventieth the size of USA.
Even combining the USSR’s and Russia’s medals, and those of East and West Germany, Norway is among the top three countries in the history of the Winter Olympics. It is also home to the three athletes who have won the most medals: Marit Bjorgen (14), Ole Einar Bjorndalen (13) and Bjorn Daehlie (12).
So will it be hard to go back to work on Monday morning once the Games are over and the euphoria has subsided? “It’ll feel a little empty,” admits Alexander Remen, another sports fan at Kahoot.
“But then we can still rejoice in the fact that we’ve won so many medals.”