By Jane Chung
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – South Korean women curling team, nicknamed “Garlic Girls” to go with their other monikers, have become overnight internet sensations following their stellar performance and cool-headedness at the Pyeongchang Games.
Kim Eun-jung’s foursome became the first Korean rink to reach the Olympic semi-finals after Tuesday’s 9-6 win over the United States. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, South Korea’s women team finished eighth.
Their fairytale run has been celebrated on social media by fans who posted memes and parody videos, with floor mops and robot vacuum cleaners, that went viral.
One of the best-known memes is a collage of South Korean curling skip Kim’s never-changing facial expression, irrespective of the situation.
Team member Kim Yeong-mi said they had no clue about their newfound fame as they had turned off mobile phones to avoid distractions.
“Even when we had a national competition, we played without any crowd because curling has been unpopular and not well known, we didn’t expect many people would come and watch us,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“We’re just grateful for that.”
Several factors worked in their favor.
For starters, all the five curlers — Kim Eun-jung, Kim Yeong-mi, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Seon-yeong and Kim Cho-hi, have the same last name.
No wonder fans also call them “Team Kim.”
While Kim Yeong-mi and Kim Kyeong-ae are siblings, all five hail from the same hometown of Uiseong, a county famous for garlic. Understandably, they are called the “Garlic Girls.”
Furthermore, they are linked to Kim Yeong-mi in one way or the other. They are either Yeong-mi’s sister, or a friend of Yeong-mi’s sister, or at least her close friend.
Reflecting South Koreans’ newfound interest in curling and the players, the Gangneung Curling Centre was nearly packed with spectators when games were held.
On Wednesday, the curling team beat Olympic Athletes from Russia 11-2 in the round robin session 11, continuing their winning streak.
“I wasn’t interested in either curling or the Olympics but after watching curling games at home, I’ve started to like them, they’re so cool,” said Park Jin-ju, a 31-year-old housewife who came with her husband to watch the game.
Park added she and her husband bought the tickets at the last minute and left their house in Cheonan, about a three-hour drive to Gangneung, at 4 a.m. to watch the team’s morning game.
“We’re getting a huge and warm support from our fans because they are cheering us so enthusiastically, and hope they can keep rooting for us,” Kim Yeong-mi said.
(Fixes typos in paragraph 2 and 16)
(Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)