Korean women shine through Olympic pressures

  • Team Korea women Photo © WCF / Michael Burns

If the Korean women's curling team weren't superstars before competing at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, they certainly are now. The young team from Uiseong, a small town in South Korea, are putting on a curling spectacle for the world to see.

Those who stay up-to-date with the latest curling standings year-round, aren't surprised by their dominant showing at the Games. But Canadian coach Peter Gallant says the average viewer in Korea is amazed by their performance - and they shouldn't be.

"The people who don't follow curling as closely maybe are surprised by us. But I think if you ask any of the other skips, they know who we are, and they know were a tough team to beat."

In preparation for the Olympic Games, Gallant uprooted his Canadian life in order to completely devote himself as the team's full-time coach. He's been a strong asset to the team's progress over the last few seasons, providing a strong sense of unity throughout the line-up. In the past, coaches would to fly into Korea for a week at a time, do training sessions, then leave. But Gallant knew in order to have a fair shot at getting to the next level, the foursome needed steady coach.

"You really need totally immerse yourself to get to this level. If you're just flying in for weekends it doesn't work. You need to watch them play all the time and work with them on the ice practicing," he said.

Gallant says the team was technically sound before his arrival, which made focusing on strategy his main task.

"They're playing the game smart now, I hardly take any notes after a game now, there used to be a book load after every game!"

He must be doing something right. Finishing first in round-robin play, in front of a roaring pro-Korean crowd, the team clinched the number one play-off spot in the semi-final at the Games. Based on past Korean Olympic performances, they've made history as the only curling team to ever do this.

Korean team coach, MinJung Kim, says although the team is happy they've made history, they're not satisfied just yet. They're working with a unique combination of intrigued spectators with little knowledge of the winter sport.

"We feel like we want to give back to the spectators and all the Korean crowd because of the support they are giving us. They are putting so much importance on the fact that curling is not that popular, and people don't understand how we are doing well," she said.

Finishing their Olympic Games strong will undoubtedly have an effect on the future of curling in Korea.

"We believe that if we do better and better people will have more interest in curling. Korean citizens think that we have come out of nowhere and we just appeared. But, we have practiced over 10 years and we have trained to be this way. We've made a lot of effort to be in this position," Kim said.

Unlike Canada, Gallant explains that curling is strictly for professionals in Korea, and there's no social aspect to the game. The first curling centre was built in Uiseong in the 90's and the team started their careers there.

"They always had this desire to have an Olympic team. These girls have played together for quite a few years," said Gallant. "I've been with this team for three years and we've worked hard on all aspects of the game; starting with technical to developing a good game plan to improving our strategy. This team has advanced by big large steps by being able to execute under pressure against top teams."

While the Koreans may be dealing with the added pressure of being the home team, they certainly aren't showing it. Over and over again, the team has made precise shots to win games or score big ends - that's with the extra challenge of trying to communicate over a vocal crowd.

Gallant put it simply, "You've got two options - you can embrace it and realize they're all for you or you can get nervous and worry about it. We've decided to embraced it."

For all the curling action from the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 follow the World Curling Federation on Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) Twitter and Instagram (@worldcurling) and use the hashtags: #curling #PyeongChang2018

By feature writer, Emily Dwyer