DPRK 2008 Olympics round-up

Well the Olympics have wrapped up, and the DPRK made headlines for several notable reasons:

1.  The Chinese government made things harder for the North Koreans living in China

2. Two DPRK athletes test positive for doping.  This results in Kim Jong Su being stripped of his silver and bronze medals in shooting.

3.  If these medals had not been taken away, the DPRK would have seen their most succesful Olympic showing ever.  Still, their medal count has been relatively impressive: 2 golds, 1 silver, and 3 bronze.  Mostly in weightlifting and Judo.

4.  Despite these results, the victories are not being touted back in Pyongyang.  According to Bloomberg:

At home, few Olympic events are shown live on television and press reports barely mention the reclusive nation’s haul of seven six medals, including two golds — the second-best in history.

Delivering news of a first gold medal since 1996, the national news agency, KCNA, carried a three-sentence report listing the weights that Pak Hyon Suk lifted for the title.

“She thus came first in the 63kg category final competition,” the story concluded.

Hardly the splurge of propaganda that might be expected in a state that misses few chances of self-promotion to a population experiencing its worst food shortages in a decade. The lack of Olympic hype is a deliberate exercise in keeping people from looking beyond their borders, said Mike Breen, author of “Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.”

5.  North Korea’s Olympic sponsors made the news.  Turns out the DPRK’s athletes need to learn to thank their sponsors on camera, not “you know who:”

“When I was about to do the third (lift), I kept in my mind that the Dear Leader would be watching,” Pak said after her Aug. 12 win. “That thought was real encouragement to me and that is how I was able to lift the last weight.”

She stopped short of emulating Cha Kum Chol’s celebration at the world weightlifting championships in Thailand in September. Then, the 56-kilogram winner burst into a rendition of “If you didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist” — a eulogy to Kim Jong Il — at a news conference.

“A lot of people give much pleasure to the Dear Leader and I’m happy to be one of them,” Cha said in Chiang Mai. (Bloomberg)

6. The DPRK’s Olympic athletes spent most of the time confined to the Olympic Village. According to a reporter with the Oregonian:

There are 63 athletes from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea staying in a private compound inside the Olympic Village.




The athletes get to go outside when they practice, or when they compete in the 11 sports they’ve come here to win medals in. But that’s about it. And I know this because I went to the Water Cube on Tuesday and talked with North Korean synchronized swimmers Kim Yong Mi and Wang Ok Gyong.

Well, I talked with an interpreter who spoke English and Mandarin. And he talked with a second interpreter who spoke Mandarin and Korean. And the five of us huddled at one end of the swim complex, against a steel rail that blocked off the back door, understanding each other, one clumsy sentence at a time.

Kim and Wang finished 15th in the preliminaries and didn’t qualify for today’s finals, which means they’ll probably be back in communist North Korea by the time you read this. There will be no trip to the Great Wall. No shopping excursion to the Silk Market. There will be no tours, or temples, or taking the subway.

The Forbidden City?


Said Wang: “We’re not allowed to see places of interest.”

North Korean athletes are not allowed to mingle with athletes from other nations inside the village. And they refused to talk with reporters after their performance on Tuesday until their coach — a woman named Jong Ae Ryu — gave her blessing. It’s protocol, and the whole contingent hurried off after a few minutes and polite explanation that they didn’t come to Beijing to be tourists or make friends.

“No mixing with others,” Jong said.

Read more here:
North Korea Heads for Best Olympics; Don’t Say It in Pyongyang
Grant Clark and Heejin Koo

A lonely Olympics experience
The Oregonian
John Canzano


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