February 21, 2018 / 6:46 AM / 2 years ago

Curling: South Korean 'Garlic Girls' savor overnight fame

(This story has been corrected to mention that four are from same hometown, not all five in para 11)

FILE PHOTO: Curling - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women’s Round Robin - Canada v South Korea - Gangneung Curling Center - Gangneung, South Korea - February 15, 2018 - Kim Kyeong-ae and Kim Seo-yeong of South Korea sweep. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

By Jane Chung

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - The South Korean women’s curling team, nicknamed “Garlic Girls”, have become overnight internet sensations following their stellar performance and cool-headedness at the Pyeongchang Games.

Kim Eun-jung’s foursome became the first Korean rink to reach the Olympic semi-finals after Tuesday’s 9-6 win over the United States. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, South Korea’s women team finished eighth.

Their fairytale run has been celebrated on social media by fans who posted memes and parody videos, with floor mops and robot vacuum cleaners, which went viral.

One of the best-known memes is a collage of South Korean curling skip Kim’s never-changing facial expression, irrespective of the situation.

Team member Kim Yeong-mi said they had no clue about their newfound fame as they had turned off mobile phones to avoid distractions during the tournament.

“Even when we had a national competition, we played without any crowd because curling has been unpopular and not well known, we didn’t expect many people would come and watch us,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

“We’re just grateful for that.”

Several factors worked in their favor.

For starters, all five curlers - Kim Eun-jung, Kim Yeong-mi, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Seon-yeong and Kim Cho-hi - have the same last name.

No wonder fans also call them “Team Kim”.

Kim Yeong-mi and Kim Kyeong-ae are siblings and four of them hail from the same hometown of Uiseong, a county famous for garlic. Understandably, they are called the “Garlic Girls”.

Furthermore, they are linked to Kim Yeong-mi in one way or the other. They are either Yeong-mi’s sister, or a friend of Yeong-mi’s sister, or at least her close friend.

Reflecting South Koreans’ newfound interest in curling and the players, the Gangneung Curling Centre was nearly packed with spectators for the games.

The home team beat Olympic Athletes from Russia 11-2 on Wednesday to continue their winning streak and they ended preliminary round play later in the day with a 9-3 win over Denmark to warm up for a semi-final against Japan on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Curling - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women’s Round Robin - Sweden v South Korea - Gangneung Curling Center - Gangneung, South Korea - February 19, 2018 - Kim Eun-jung, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Seon-yeong and Kim Yeong-mi of South Korea celebrate beating Sweden. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

“I wasn’t interested in either curling or the Olympics but after watching curling games at home, I’ve started to like them, they’re so cool,” said Park Jin-ju, a 31-year-old housewife who came with her husband to watch the game.

Park and her husband bought the tickets at the last minute and left their house in Cheonan, about a three-hour drive from Gangneung, at 4 a.m. to watch the team’s morning game.

“We’re getting a huge and warm support from our fans because they are cheering us so enthusiastically, and hope they can keep rooting for us,” Kim Yeong-mi said.

Reporting by Jane Chung,; Editing by Ed Osmond

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