Garlic Girls: South Korean curlers the rock stars of Winter Olympics

South Korea’s women’s curling team celebrate after beating Russian athletes during their match at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. (AP)
Updated 23 February 2018
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Garlic Girls: South Korean curlers the rock stars of Winter Olympics

GANGNEUNG, South Korea: Forget Lindsey Vonn and Adam Rippon. The real rock stars of the Pyeongchang Olympics are a humble group of Korean curlers who have no idea they’ve become a global sensation.
They are known as the “Garlic Girls,” the South Korean women’s curling team with the fairy-tale story whose moniker reflects the locally-famed garlic grown in their hometown. Never considered a medal contender coming into Pyeongchang, they have risen to No. 1 in the rankings, earning worldwide attention for their fierce talent and funny personalities.
And yet the Garlic Girls have been almost totally sheltered from the international frenzy both by personal choice — they switched off their phones during the games to block outside attention — and by a protective coach who is keenly aware that curling is as much a mental game as a physical one.
After a recent match, the women were quickly shuffled past waiting reporters, giving journalists apologetic smiles and greetings of “Anyonghaseyo!” (hello) before vanishing. None of them, says coach Kim Min-jung, are aware that they’ve become superstars.
“I’m sorry that I could not bring the athletes today, because I’m worried there will be too much pressure and burden on them,” Kim said. “Even the crowd is too interested in them.”
That interest is understandable. The Garlic Girls seem tailor-made for stardom.
The wildly skilled underdogs came into the Olympics ranked eighth in the world and went on to crush curling heavyweights including Canada and Sweden. They are cute and comical, referring to themselves by quirky nicknames such as “Pancake” and “Steak.”
Two teammates are sisters and all are longtime friends, creating irresistible chemistry on the ice. The team’s “skip,” or captain, has a steely gaze and funky, owl-eyed glasses that have become fodder for endless Internet memes.
Many Koreans who have never seen a curling match have nonetheless traveled to remote Gangneung to peek at their nation’s new darlings in person.
“I’m very proud of them,” said Lee Ji Sun, a 26-year-old who had never been inside a curling arena before Wednesday’s match. “They are showing we can do well even in new sport events.”
Every match featuring the team is packed with screaming, flag-fluttering Koreans who leap to their feet to cheer on the women’s stunningly precise shots. One fan in the crowd Wednesday waved what appeared to be a hand-drawn portrait of skip Kim Eun-jung with her trademark spectacles.
The excitement surrounding the women even prompted a few dozen senior citizens from the southern city of Jaecheon to charter a bus to the arena so they could revel in the country’s newfound curling prestige.
“I actually don’t know curling rules, so I have to find out what’s going on from people sitting next to me,” said Yang Chang-nam, 77. “I feel very good as the South Korean team is doing well.”
That curling has gained any prominence in Korea is surprising in itself. Korea didn’t even have a team in Olympic curling until the 2014 Sochi Games.
It took Koreans awhile to wake up to curling, largely because the country lacked sufficient facilities until recent years, Kim Young, a curling legend who started the Korean Curling Club in 1988, said by email. Now, he says, Korea has six dedicated curling arenas, and many schools have curling teams.
In 2006, South Korea’s first curling center was built in the rural town of Uiseong. Four of the five team members attended Uiseong Women’s High School, where they were on the school’s curling team. Uiseong’s reputation as the nation’s default curling capital slowly grew, and the curling center has hosted about 15 major domestic and international curling events.
Still, until the women’s team began their surprise winning streak in Pyeongchang, Uiseong was better known for its prolific garlic production.
Koreans consider garlic a health food that boosts stamina. Seo Eun Ha, a 26-year-old Garlic Girls fan, believes garlic may have contributed to the team’s success. (She also credits the women’s good teamwork and strong relationships.)
Like many fans at Gangneung, Seo is particularly fond of the curlers’ unusual nicknames: Sunny, Steak, Pancake, Annie (a brand of yogurt) and ChoCho (a type of cookie).
“I think their nicknames go well with their lively images,” Seo said. “I like ‘Steak’ the most. It sounds so funny and unique.”
The nicknames started as a gag over breakfast one day, said Kim, the coach. The women were talking about how difficult it was for other countries’ athletes to pronounce their names at international competitions. All five team members and their coach also share the same surname — Kim, which is very common in Korea — making their names even more confounding for foreigners.
Kim Seon-yeong, who was eating a sunny-side-up fried egg, joked that she could go by the name “Sunny.” The other women loved the idea. They each opted to nickname themselves after the English words for their favorite breakfast foods, figuring that would be easier for others to grasp.
Though the women’s team is getting the most attention, Korean fans have been going wild for the men, too. After Wednesday’s men’s match, a player from the Korean team began throwing T-shirts into the crowd, which surged forward with outstretched arms.
Kim Heae Darm, a fan who leaped up and managed to snag a shirt sailing overhead, pressed it to her face and screamed with glee. She then turned to capturing the attention of Korean mixed doubles player Lee Ki-jeong, who scrawled his autograph in her notebook.
As she struggled to catch her breath, she explained her excitement by noting that Lee was strong, athletic and “very handsome.”
“I like them so much!” she squealed.
Kim believes the exposure the sport has received in Pyeongchang will lead to an influx of new curlers in the country, particularly because parents will support children taking it up.
As for the success of the women’s team, Kim, the founder of the curling club, couldn’t be prouder. “They are heroes!” he said.
Yet the Garlic Girls do have one request: Maybe someone could come up with a nicer team name for them?
“We would prefer the name ‘Team Kim,’” Kim, the coach, said with a laugh. “Because although our hometown is Uiseong — which is related to garlic — we have no relationship with garlic at all.”


Woman punches bear, gets help from dog to survive attack

Updated 15 December 2018
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Woman punches bear, gets help from dog to survive attack

  • The attack occurred in a rural area outside Muncy, Pennsylvania, roughly 165 miles (265 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia
  • The attack began when she went outside with her dog around 6 p.m.

PENNSYLVANIA: A woman survived a mauling by a bear by repeatedly punching the animal and crawling into a bush as her Chihuahua-mix distracted the attacker.
Melinda LeBarron has broken bones, cuts and bruises and multiple bites after the attack outside her home in rural Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening, her son said. She remained hospitalized in critical condition Friday.
Her dog — fittingly named Bear — was also bitten several times and has a broken sternum and separated ribs.
“I’ll just put it this way — she’s very, very lucky to be alive,” said her son, Trent LeBarron, who described her as a tough person. “She was punching the bear and everything. Her right hand’s all swollen up from punching the bear.”
The attack began when she went outside with her dog around 6 p.m. When Bear the dog barked, Melinda LeBarron, a 51-year-old food prepper at a steakhouse restaurant, looked around to see what had startled the canine.
“The next thing she knew, she was on the ground getting slammed around,” said her son.
The black bear dragged Melinda about 80 yards (70 meters) through her yard, across a road, and into a thicket, while the dog tried to intervene, biting the black bear several times. Some of her clothes were ripped off in the process.
The attack left a trail of blood that relatives later followed.
“As she said in her own words, the bear wouldn’t show her no mercy at all,” Trent LeBarron said. “It wouldn’t stop.”
Eventually Melinda LeBarron went limp, and the bear took an interest in the dog, giving her a chance to climb into a small bush. She then threw a stick to distract the bear and finally made her way home to call a relative for help.
Bear the dog somehow got back into the home and was found whimpering beneath a bed.
“She’s stable now,” Trent LeBarron said. “She’s doing good, she’s actually doing very good. She has a long ways to go and a lot of lot of surgeries coming up.”
Before Melinda LeBarron was able to speak, she wrote on a pad to ask how her dog was doing.
“We asked her if Bear saved her life,” Trent LeBarron said. She nodded her head yes “so fast it was unreal.”
The attack occurred in a rural area outside Muncy, Pennsylvania, roughly 165 miles (265 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia.
Wildlife officials told WNEP-TV they are trying to track the bear. Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said his agency believes it is a sow with cubs and the attack occurred after the dog ran toward the bears.
Mike Levan, Melinda LeBarron’s neighbor and landlord, whose wife called 911, said a bear sow and four cubs were seen in the neighborhood all summer.