The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics came to a close on February 25th with plenty of drama and glory for the athletes. We know who the Olympic winners are… But that’s only in regards to the sporting portion of the games. We’ve created our own list of winners for the Olympics. See who won the awards for our hearts, fashion and world peace… from the Korean point of view.
Opening Ceremony Winners: Tonga, North Korea, Queen Yuna
In all honestly, all Olympic Ceremonies pale in comparison to the legendary 2008 Beijing Olympics. Nothing can beat that thousand man drum army. But the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Ceremony was memorable in its own right. All the traditional Korean themes probably flew over the international audience’s head (like the children frolicking around with tigers and dragons, and traditional pansori singers with that deeply Korean vibrato). But here’s a few that stood out from the opening ceremony.
Pita Taufatofua (Tonga) – The one-man team from Tonga came out shirtless, oiled and ripped waving the Tongan flag like an ancient pacific warrior out for tongues. Pita Taufatofua, a cross country skier and the lone athlete from the small Pacific Island nation, actually made the same entrance in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games as a Taekwondo athlete. But watching him in the piercing cold, glistening in his shirtless glory next to all his contemporaries bundled up in padded jackets and woolen hats was riveting to say the least.
North Korea – North Korea won a lot during this Olympics (more on that next). But the very first victory was seeing South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in walking into the stadium and shaking hands with and sitting next to the North Korean leadership, Kim Yo-jong (Kim Jong Un’s Sister) and Kim Yong Nam (North Korea’s nominal head of state). This was the first time since the Korean War that a member of the Kim Dynasty visited South Korea, and sight of leaders from the two mortal enemy countries shaking hands stirred a sense of peace and hope. The teams also marched out together under a unified and neutral flag, like they did in the 2000, 2004 and 2006 Olympics. But it was was exponentially more symbolic of peace than it could have ever been anywhere else to see Korean citizens and heads of states cheering and waving as South Koreans welcomed their sworn enemies to promenade together as one nation inside the very nation they hope to unite. The final touch on the message of peace were the second to last torch bearers, who were a pair of North and South Korean athletes that passed the torch to the final winner of the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympic opening ceremony…
Queen Yuna – Whenever Kim Yuna came back from all her other Winter Olympics competitions, her face would be plastered on advertisements, public service announcements and tv variety shows for months on end. So it was odd that she was absent throughout the entire opening ceremony. It’s obvious now, but of course they were saving her until the very last crescendo. As the two Koreans ran the torch up the long flight of steps, the camera panned to Queen Yuna skating swirls around a mini ice rink atop the stadium. The fans roared when they finally saw the ice queen. Her appearance at the opening ceremony was brief, but as one of the most beloved South Korean athletes in the past few decades, she was the icing on top of the Winter Games cake (excuse the pun).
World Peace Winners: North Korean Cheerleaders
World peace and North Korea are almost never mentioned in the same breadth. The North has flown ballistic missiles over Japan and tested numerous nuclear weapons in recent years, causing them to be singled out by the international media for being crazy and causing ruckus in global stability. But this time in Pyeongchang (which is only about 40 miles from the DMZ), they shed a positive light on their villainous image. No matter how much the international media tried to darken each North Korean appearance, they weren’t able to discount the North Korean cheerleaders who won more hearts each time the cameras panned across the squad of beautiful women in their matching outfits cheering on both North and South Korean athletes in hyper-synced North Korean style choreography. Most of the time they were seen at the joint Inter-Korean Women’s Ice Hockey Team, but they also made appearances that didn’t feature any North Korean athletes as well. They did not go to any American games, however.
The blatant ploy to win hearts and to get back in the good graces of the global community worked perfectly as most people reciprocated the North Korean cheer team’s hurrahs with smiles.
Outfit Winners: New Zealand Hangul Jackets
The long, white padded jackets that Moon Jae-in, the President of South Korea, his wife, and the rest of the Korean delegation entered the stadium with were immensely popular. But Koreans were more enamored with Team New Zealand’s jackets which had hangul letters emblazoned on the sleeves spelling out New Zealand (뉴질렌드). Koreans are fiercely proud of their heritage, and whenever another country pays any homage to Korean culture, they’ll love them for it. So of course, the jackets made several rounds on network television news and were hot hashtags on social media.
Media Winners: Korean Announcers
While the media of most countries is geared to root for the home country, South Korean sports anchors are unapologetically biased, making for exciting Olympiking on Korean broadcast networks. Watching a round robin Olympic curling match with Korean anchors is like watching a championship football game with your die-hard fan dad. No matter how boring the game, how far the odds, or how bad the outcome, Korean announcers will root for their country men and women loud and proud (often blowing out their mics in the process). It’s this unbridled enthusiasm that’s captivating. Case in point, the Inter-Korean Women’s Ice Hockey Team lost 8-0 twice to Sweden and Switzerland. In their next game against Japan, they were losing 3-0, and the Korean team scored their first goal of the tournament prompting the broadcasters to scream like they had won the gold. One of the broadcasters said that it was a “historic day!” Throughout the rest of the broadcast, they replayed the lone Korean goal over and over again, even as they went on to lose 4-1. There is no shame in their bias, and that’s what we love them for!
(P.S. Watch for the 1:02 mark to see a broadcaster wipe a tear ?.)
Olympic Darling Winners: The Garlic Girls
By far, the darlings of the 2018 Winter Olympics were the Korean Women’s curling team, nicknamed the Garlic Girls for their hometown of Uiseong, Korea’s capitol for garlic. But it’s not the garlic that made them so famous. They have cute personalities, with breakfast food nicknames for each other and a friendly and intimate bond that other teams envied. Probably what won everyone over was the skip (captain), Kim Eun Jeong (aka Annie, after Annie’s Yogurt), and how she threw her stones each time with a stone cold stare that became meme-worthy all over the Korean Internet. Also, they were the biggest underdog story of the Olympics. Ranked number 8 in the world, they beat curling giants such as Canada and Sweden, and made it all the way to the finals to win a silver medal. Of course, the world loves a good underdog story, and they’ve been picked up by Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. For the next few months, you’ll see them on Korean commercials… probably for breakfast foods and glasses.
Happiest Winners: All Male Korean Medalists
Just like all olympic winners, the Korean olympic medalists often take their victory laps in tears of joy, letting their emotions go as they think of all the sacrifices they made to reach the pinnacle of sports. But for Korean male medalists, they’re probably a bit happier than the average Olympian. Any Korean male that medals in any international sporting competition (Olympics, World Cup, Asia Games, etc.) becomes exempt from their mandatory military service. Sure, they’re happy to be at the top of the world and to bring glory to mother Korea, but they’ve also saved themselves nearly 2 years worth of sleeping out in the mountains, shoveling snow and eating kimchi MREs. Congrats fellas!
Closing Ceremony Winners: Guitar Kid, Live Drones, Kpop
Yang Tae Hwan (13 Year Old Guitarist) – To wrap up the games, the organizers decided to entail the help of children for the closing ceremony. There were troves of tikes and teens singing and dancing throughout both the opening and closing ceremonies. Maybe the budget was low, and they needed cheap labor. But whatever it was, they got their money’s worth with Yang Tae Hwan, a 13 year old guitar prodigy. He kicked off the closing ceremony with a wicked electric guitar solo, was joined by a troupe of traditional Korean instrument players and a traditional Korean dancer. He was the one allowed to finish off the score with another final rock out. Child labor for the win!
(Closing solo starts at 4:39)
Live Drones – The opening ceremony featured a drone show with 1218 drones flying in unison to form Olympic images. It was the largest drone show ever, but it was pre-recorded for weather concerns. The closing ceremony, on the other hand, featured a live drone show. Although the 300 drones weren’t recording breaking like the opening ceremony, watching the night sky light up and see the mascot of the Olympic games, Sugorang, form before our eyes was impressive as it stood (and even walked in mid air) above the stadium!
Kpop – There’s no way that Korea would have let the games end without its biggest world export: Kpop. Modestly dressed for the International feed, CL, one of Korea’s most well known sex symbols, kept asking where her baddest ones were at (Song: The Baddest Female), and told everyone that she’s still the best (Song: 2NE1 – I’m the Best). And even before EXO made their appearance, kpop legions were already on social media to make sure everyone knew they were on their coming up soon with their songs Power and Growl. No doubt the kpop horde has picked up more fans on this world stage.
Korea put on a good show for the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics; the venues were up and running on schedule, and there weren’t any controversies or complaints (which is probably the best compliment a hosting city can get). Of course, it was a fun and memorable two weeks of broken Olympic records, new super star champions and even zany North Korean politics.
Koreans still consider the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and the 2002 World Cup as two of the highest summits of Korea’s modern history. This one is another one for the books.
How does your country’s view of the Olympics compare to Korea? What are the similarities and differences? Leave a comment!