Sports News

North Korea rewards athletes with luxury apartments

SEOUL (Reuters) - “Happy laughter” drifted from deluxe new apartments in North Korea on Friday after some of the country’s top athletes were rewarded for their performances in international competitions.

North Korea's An Kum Ae bites her gold medal as she celebrates during the awards ceremony for the women's -52kg judo competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The North’s KCNA news agency said several athletes, including 2012 Olympic gold medalists Om Yun-chul, An Kum-ae and Kim Un-guk, moved into their luxury new homes along the banks of the Pothong river.

North Korea, which is technically still at war with the South after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, often rewards successful athletes with a life of luxury for glorifying the impoverished, repressive state.

Weightlifter Om, who won the 56 kilogram weight class at the London Games, was overcome with emotion and paid tribute to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the country’s Songun, or “Military First”, philosophy.

“We sportspersons could exalt the dignity and honor of Songun Korea with gold medals in international games thanks to the deep loving care of Kim Jong-un, who has always led us in each match, instilling strength and courage into us,” KCNA quoted Om as saying.

Supreme leader Kim, the third of his line to rule North Korea, had “shown so profound loving care and trust” that long-distance runner Kim Kum-ok was moved to tears.

“I could hardly enter the flat as every room of the wonderful flat is associated with the profound loving care of the Marshal and I was deeply touched by the benevolence under the grateful socialist system,” she told KCNA.

“I keenly realized once again under what profound loving care we are living.”

North Korea, which struggles to feed its people due to a broken economy and heavy U.N. sanctions, won four gold and two bronze medals to finish 20th in the London Games medal table.

South Korea finished fifth with 13 gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals.

Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Ian Ransom