See You in Rio: A Final Look at Team North Korea during the London Olympics

By | August 05, 2012 | No Comments

Having Lain Flowers at the Statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Song, North Korea’s Top Olympians are Hailed on Pyongyang’s Parade-Ready Boulevards | Rodong Sinmun, August 17, 2012

Ben Young finishes his series on North Korea in the Olympics by watching the Olympics while IN North Korea. Now that he has vacated the premises and is at a safe remove, Young offers this final assessment addressing some of the rumors of the fates awaiting successful athletes as well as the unsuccessful ones and  how a heretofore little known Australian paper drew the attention – nay, the very ire – of KCNA.   Benjamin Young’s penultimate essay  and series inaugural article “Deer Musk and Female Dominance,” were respectively picked up by  and by Gawker),   – Roger Cavazos, Coordinator

See You in Rio: A Final Look at Team North Korea during the London Olympics

by Benjamin Young

As predicted, the hegemons triumphed!  In the London 2012 medal rankings, the United States and China battled for the top spot. The USA emerged as number one with 104 medals (46 golds) while China occupied second place with a very respectable 88 total medals and 38 gold medals. Tucked away in 34th place between Mexico (33rd) and South Africa (35th) was North Korea. Both Mexico and South Africa, it should be noted, have larger and richer populations than DPRK.  Team DPRK walked away with six total medals.  Four gold medals gave DPRK a phenomenal two-thirds Gold ratio. The North Koreans were off to a fast start in the London Olympics but their medal tally quickly slowed down after halfway. After August 1, only two more medals were won by the North Koreans.

What were the “off the pitch” rumblings regarding North Korea in the final half of the London Olympics? Why did the KCNA take exception to a peripheral Australian newspaper’s labeling  the country as “Naughty Korea”?  What about the unconfirmed rumor that North Korean athletes are sent to labor camps if they do not perform well in the Olympics?  What was the public response to the Games in the DPRK itself?

No one was confused about which Korea was “nice” and which one was “naughty”. However, at least one news agency saw fit to launch 14 paragraphs of invective. Lady MacBeth reference optional.

Going to Find Out Who Is Naughty and Nice |  If unknown commuter magazine mX was looking for publicity during the Olympics, they surely found it. In a seemingly lighthearted attempt to poke fun at North Korea, editors printed the medal rankings with the labels of “Nice Korea” for South Korea and “Naughty Korea” for the North. This chart soon went viral and many around the world laughed along with the mX editors’ joke. However, the North Koreans were not so pleased with the label. KCNA released a 14-paragraph statement that called the labeling “a bullying act little short of insulting the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and progress and politicizing sports.” In an odd twist, KCNA wrongly labeled mX as “Brisbane Metro” throughout the article. It is reported that the ‘Brisbane Metro” was the name being given on social media sites such as Twitter, indicating that KCNA may be mentoring social media sites, if not tweeting their own news.

Gold medalist Rim Jong Sim at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, in London. What alchemical glories Juche hath wrought; turning iron into gold. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Luxuries or Labor? |  ABC news recently ran an article titled “North Korea’s Key to Olympic Medals: Refrigerators for Winners, Labor Camp Threat for Losers.” The basic premise of the article is that North Korean athletes from a young age are groomed to become top world-class athletes. This notion is hardly contestable, but the idea of a failure to to perform well on the international stage resulting in time in labor camps is anything but definitive. As the article states:

Rumors of athletes being sent directly to labor camps upon arriving home are not confirmed, but it is a common procedure to open “review meetings” after the sports events in which participants “assess” their own and each other’s games.

Surely, the labor camps are a major human rights violation but unconfirmed rumors do very little to help alleviate the issue at hand. If nothing else, it helps the never-ending rumor mill that is North Korean internal affairs to keep churning.

Of course, DPRK athletes who perform well will be treated well upon return. Americans are the kings of treating athletes as royalty so this should be nothing new to the American sports fan. However, in the DPRK, the athletes are bestowed with titles such as “hero” and “people’s athlete.” In addition, gifts from the state, such as color televisions and refrigerators, are common.

On the 12th, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed footage of Pyongyang citizens gathering to watch the Olympics on a jumbo TV screen that was recently installed outside Pyongyang’s main railway station. (© Yonhap)

Bringing Bob Costas to Pyongyang | On the 12th of August, a Chinese state broadcaster from CCTV showed footage of Pyongyang citizens gathering outside the main railway station and watching the Olympics. It was earlier reported by the website, North Korea Tech, that the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union had agreed to supply North Korea, most likely just Pyongyang, with live TV coverage of the 2012 Olympic games.

In the author’s recent trip to Pyongyang, one could flip on the television in the hotel room and watch the Olympics for a significant period of time. In addition, the guide during the author’s recent tour was aware of North Korea’s medal count in the Olympics and knew what events the DPRK had placed. Sports are a significant part of the DPRK’s national identity and a nice outlet from the harsh realities of the lives of many North Korean citizens. In the author’s recent trip to the DPRK, it was common to see football pitches (“soccer fields” for our U.S. readers) , basketball courts, and even baseball fields full of people. As the next four years speed by with Usainian velocity, one can be sure that North Korea will continually raise world-class athletes and compete well in their key sports of football, weightlifting, and judo.

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