North's 'army of beauties' seduces as Koreans' Olympics debut ends in tears

PHOTO: AFP

PYEONGCHANG - North Korea's cheerleaders serenaded South Korean fans with tender love songs on Saturday (Feb 10) as a joint Korean ice hockey team's emotional Olympic debut ended in tears before the sister of Kim Jong Un.

The first Kim dynasty member to visit the south since the 1950-53 Korean War, Kim Yo Jong sat alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in to watch the Koreans suffer an 8-0 shutout by Switzerland in Pyeongchang.

However, the result mattered less than the political symbolism as around 200 of North Korea's famed "army of beauties" charmed a crowd of 3,600 besotted locals with nostalgic oldies - and even broke out a Mexican wave.

The powerful Kim sister also attended Friday's opening ceremony, but before the hockey match there were none of the flag-burning protests over the North's Olympic presence that had marked the previous few days.

Outside, many locals wore the joint team's jersey with "KOREA" emblazoned across their chests and waved mini unification flags - a pale blue silhouette of the Korean peninsula.

After delivering an invitation for Moon to visit Pyongyang earlier on Saturday, Kim arrived dressed in a black fur-collared coat and took her seat next to North Korea's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, with Olympic chief Thomas Bach also present.

 

 

The Kim sister put her hands to her mouth early in the match when North Korean forward Jong Su Hyon went close.

But a first-period treble from Alina Muller set the tone and effectively dashed any hopes of a homemade fairytale.

"The chemistry on the team is better than I ever predicted," said Korea coach Sarah Murray, brushing off the heavy defeat.

"They laugh together, they hang out together, they eat meals together. I walk into the locker room and you can't tell who is from the North and who is from the South. They're just girls playing hockey."

Decked out in red tracksuits and woolly hats, North Korea's cheerleaders sang "uri nun, hana da" (we are one) and clapped in perfect unison as local hip hop artists rapped on a stage behind them and K-Pop blared over the loudspeakers in a stark clash of cultures.

 

See North Korea's cheerleading 'army of beauties' in action

  • North Korea's cheerleaders serenaded South Korean fans with tender love songs on Saturday (Feb 10) as a joint Korean ice hockey team's emotional Olympic debut ended in tears before the sister of Kim Jong Un.
  • Around 200 of North Korea's famed "army of beauties" charmed a crowd of 3,600 besotted locals with nostalgic oldies - and even broke out a Mexican wave.
  • Decked out in red tracksuits and woolly hats, North Korea's cheerleaders sang "uri nun, hana da" (we are one) and clapped in perfect unison as local hip hop artists rapped on a stage behind them and K-Pop blared over the loudspeakers in a stark clash of cultures.
  • Local fans took pictures of the cheerleaders, who smiled for the cameras before unfurling a unification flag at the final buzzer.
  • The cheerleaders continued to chant long after the rest of the arena had emptied.
  • The troupe, cheered by dozens of fans as their bus pulled up under tight security before the game, have been dispatched south as part of a North Korean charm offensive after months of fiery rhetoric threatening nuclear war and provocative missile tests.
  • The ladies, all in their late teens or early 20s, are said to be handpicked from elite universities and undergo strict background checks.
  • During the game, the group of supporters from North Korea were seen cheering the unified team while wearing a mask of a young man.
  • After the image emerged, suspicions that the mask bore the picture of a young Kim Il-sung surfaced among South Koreans. It was further fueled by those disgruntled by the participation of the North, which has been aggravating regional tensions with its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
  • The South Korean Unification Ministry attempted to put out the fire early by saying Sunday the face was not that of the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's grandfather.
  • "(The ministry) informs you that the mask used by the North Korean supporters during the women's' ice hockey match was a 'handsome man's mask'," the ministry said in its statement.

 

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Local fans took pictures of the cheerleaders, who smiled for the cameras before unfurling a unification flag at the final buzzer.

Moments later, Kim Yo Jong approached the ice with the other dignitaries to applaud the Korean players and take part in a group photo.

The players shook hands with South Korean President Moon but Kim did not offer her hand.

 

 

"(President Moon) said a lot of nice things," said goalie Shin So-jung after the game. "Like that we have come a long way and that we should be proud of ourselves because we have written history."

Meanwhile the cheerleaders continued to chant long after the rest of the arena had emptied.

The troupe, cheered by dozens of fans as their bus pulled up under tight security before the game, have been dispatched south as part of a North Korean charm offensive after months of fiery rhetoric threatening nuclear war and provocative missile tests.

The ladies, all in their late teens or early 20s, are said to be handpicked from elite universities and undergo strict background checks.

Its most famous alumna is Ri Sol Ju, better known these days as the First Lady of North Korea.

The North only agreed last month to attend its first Olympics in the South, but each time Pyongyang considers sending a delegation to a sporting event in South Korea drama often seems to follow.

At the 2003 University Games in Taegu, accusations that local right-wing groups had "ransacked" bedrooms and stolen underwear at the North Korean delegation's hotel prompted the cheerleaders to down pom-poms in protest.

North and South Korea have shared a heavily fortified border since the Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

 

Meet the 200-strong 'army of beauties' from North Korea

  • After 10 days at the PyeongChang games, the 229 cheerleaders and 22 athletes are heading home.
  • A total of 299 North Koreans crossed the inter-Korean border at 12:38 pm on Feb 26. after going through the customs, immigration and quarantine office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on the southern side of the border.
  • The cheerleaders -- who captured the eyes and hearts of the Olympic audience after making their first cross-border trip in 13 years -- also left the South.
  • They rooted mostly for the joint hockey team throughout their South Korean trip, which lasted a total of 19 days.
  • A cheerleader expressed her hope for a unified Korea saying that the Olympics was an opportunity that showed inter-Korean co-operation was the answer to unification.
  • "I thought that the two Koreas could be unified as soon as possible, as we are one," another cheerleader said. "I was so happy as I could cheer for the unified team."
  • More than 200 sharply dressed North Korean cheerleaders decked out in expensive fur smiled and posed for the media and onlookers on Wednesday (Feb 7) after arriving in South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.
  • The 229 chic young women wore tailored knee-lenth scarlet coats with fur hats, fur collars, and matching cuffs to ward off the winter chill.
  • They were immediately whisked away in a convoy to their hotel in Inje county, a small rural town located 120 kilometres from the Games venue in Pyeongchang.
  • The young women were given a quick bathroom break at a rest area in Gapyeong, located about halfway to their hotel destination.
  • The women were part of a 280-member delegation who crossed the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas at a border post north of Seoul.
  • They strutted past South Koreans onlookers, who snapped out their smartphones for photos of the rare sight.
  • "I am happy to see you," said one cheerleader, beaming broadly but refusing to disclose their cheerleading routine.
  • "You just wait. If I tell you now, it would be less exciting when you see it."
  • The cheerleaders are reportedly the product of a careful selection process in North Korea.
  • They are screened for their family backgrounds, looks, skills and loyalty to the ruling Workers' Party.
  • The North has sent cheer squads to three international sports events hosted by the South - the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, the 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.
  • One of those in the 2005 group, Ri Sol Ju, went on to become the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
  • "I don't want to say it but North Korea's cheering squad is quite pretty. You can throw stones at me but the truth is the truth," said another observer on Twitter.
  • "I think they are very pretty," said a South Korean onlooker.
  • At a dinner banquet hosted by South Korea, the cheerleaders - in matching bright red two-piece jackets and skirts complete with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lapel pins - were seen chatting among themselves at round tables.
  • The guests were served grilled scallops, shrimp wrapped in pickled radish, barbequed beef, beef stew, fruit and beer.
  • "A new era of reconcialiation has been opened," said a North Korean delegate leading the cheer squads, referring to a thaw in North and South Korean relations ahed of the Games.
  • With only 10 North Korean athletes competing for their country at the Games, and another 12 on the roster of a unified Korean women's ice hockey team, the cheerleaders will reportedly support South Korean athletes when none of their own are in action.
  • "By the way, I love the North Korean cheering squad's outfit. It's quite something! I want that hat!" said one South Korea fan on Twitter.
  • For the cheering squad, this trip marks its first appearance in 13 years at a South Korea-hosted international sporting event.
  • Some cheerleaders nodded and smiled when press asked whether they were all from Pyongyang, and replied they were from different age groups when questioned as to how old they are.

 

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