They were the hometown heroes of the Pyeongchang Olympics, the South Korean underdogs with catchy nicknames who bested the more experienced teams to win the silver medal in curling.
and then, in an instant, the story of the “garlic girls” went from heartwarming to painful.
Reading: Korean women’s curling team
The five-member women’s curling team, whose name is a nod to its rural hometown’s prolific garlic production, has publicly accused two coaches and a curling executive of verbally and emotionally abusing them and withholding control. prize money. The scandal rocked South Korea, where the team had achieved celebrity status, and highlighted the abuse and corruption that has long plagued the country’s elite sports scene.
Four years later, the Garlic Girls arrived at the Beijing Olympics ready to do what they couldn’t in Pyeongchang: be themselves and enjoy the experience, said team captain Kim Eun-jung.
“We basically decided to have fun this time,” said Kim, whose stern expressions, owl-eyed glasses and deafening screams at her teammates on the ice made her a fan favorite during Pyeongchang games . “we will focus on showing our best shots instead of worrying too much about the results.”
This time around, the team vowed to avoid the unbearable stress their former coaching staff was heaping on their shoulders, their Canadian coach, Peter Gallant, said.
“this whole experience of going to beijing, it’s so relaxing compared to the pressure cooker they were in four years ago,” said gallant, who said he was horrified by the accusations of abuse by women against his exes colleagues. “Nobody could be under more pressure in curling than them.”
that the garlic girls consider competing in the beijing games during a pandemic to be “relaxing”, despite the strict containment measures implemented by china as part of its covid-19 zero tolerance policy, is perhaps the best indication of the suffocating stress women faced in the run up to pyeongchang.
the women said they were mistreated by the former vice president of the korean curling federation, kim kyung-doo; his daughter and his head coach Kim Min-jung; and her husband, Jang Ban-seok, who was also the country’s mixed doubles curling coach.
In addition to withholding the prize money, the players said they were frequently verbally abused by Kim Kyung-doo and coaches made them miserable by controlling their lives, and even tried to expel Kim Eun-jung after learning of it. what I planned to start with. a family. Kim Kyung-doo later admitted to verbally abusing the team and said the family would leave the sport for good, though he denied taking any money from the women.
The Korean Curling Federation eventually banned the trio from the sport for life.
In December 2020, the Daegu District Court sentenced Kim Kyung-doo to one year in prison and Jang Ban-seok to one year suspended for embezzling government subsidies, donations, and prize money. The court later reduced Kim’s sentence to an eight-month suspended sentence, saying that she did not use all the embezzled money for personal purposes and that she also helped promote curling in South Korea.
but the court rejected an appeal filed by jang. Both Kim and Jang appealed the latest rulings to the Supreme Court, according to the Daegu court.
gallant, who has worked with the team on and off since 2016, said his limited Korean language skills left him largely unaware of the verbal abuse his players were enduring.
When the women went public with their accusations, his heart broke.
“You get so attached to them that you hate to see someone take advantage of them,” he said.
but mixed with the horror he felt at his accusations was pride at his bravery.
“It just took a lot of strength,” he said. “In this society where there’s so much respect for elders…for them to go out in public and basically accuse people older than them of things they’ve done, it was just an amazing story.”
The abuse ruined what should have been one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, Gallant said. Curling was virtually unknown in South Korea before Pyeongchang, and the Garlic Girls entered the games ranked eighth in the world.
Their electrifying performance on the ice quickly captivated curling fans, and their quirky personalities made them global sensations. Realizing that most Westerners would have trouble with their names, particularly since they all share the common South Korean surname of Kim, they turned to their favorite breakfast foods as inspiration for their individual nicknames, including “steak” and “pancake.” .
the women became media darlings and starred in a series of commercials for korean electronics brand lg. So intense was her fame that Kim Eun-jung, nicknamed “Annie” after a brand of yogurt, couldn’t even walk down the street without being recognized, she gallantly said.
But behind the scenes, women suffered.
“It was very bittersweet. not many people knew the backstory of the abuse. … but they had so much pressure on them, ‘if you don’t win, you’ll never curl again,’ that kind of thing,” Gallant said. “They really couldn’t enjoy that silver medal the way they should have.”
After going public with their allegations of abuse, the team went through a long period where they didn’t screw much. So Gallant was delighted when he got the call to come back as his coach for another shot at an Olympic medal.
“I’d say they deserve to be there, but I’m a bit biased,” Gallant said. “They are a strong team; It is no coincidence that they are there.”
On Thursday, the women were all smiles as they greeted fans in the curling arena ahead of their first battle of the Beijing Games.
in the end, they lost to canada, the curling heavyweight, 12-7. they high-fived anyway. and on Friday they beat Great Britain.
“In pyeongchang, we got really good results, so the pressure is definitely there,” Kim Eun-jung said after Thursday night’s loss. “but especially with the amazing atmosphere in beijing, we think we are more than ready to enjoy the games this time.”
Associate Press Writers Jimmy Golen in Beijing and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.
See also: IHF | Team Details Page