Pacific-Asia curling event a chance to gauge post-Olympic momentum

  • Team Kim competing at the Gangneung Curling Centre during the Olympic Winter Games 2018 © WCF / Richard Gray

There are many reasons why a city decides to bid for an Olympic Games. One of the main reasons is the legacy left afterwards.

The likes of China, Canada and Great Britain have all benefited from being a host nation and in turn have seen a boost in performance. The next nation that could follow this success is South Korea, after their most successful Winter Olympics, winning a record 17 medals.

While they had their usual haul of medals in the short track speed skating, Korea won their first medal in Olympic curling – taking silver in the women’s tournament with Team EunJung Kim becoming national sensations. Their performances in Gangneung – as well as the other Korean curling teams in the tournament – sparked a national buzz for the sport.

And, Gangneung will see a return to elite curling again in 2018 as they host the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships – from 3-10 November – less than a year after the EunJung heroics. Although the performances will likely be as successful as the Olympics, the further legacy of the games is being felt nationwide.

“Most Koreans now know about curling,” said Byung Kim, Secretary General for the organising committee for the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships, “Since the 2018 Olympics, curling is no longer an unpopular sport in Korea.”

Team EunJung, otherwise known as the ‘Garlic Girls’, have since appeared in commercials and on television programmes in South Korea and have become part of pop culture. Skip Kim EunJung’s cry “Yeong-mi-ya” (a shout to lead Kim YeongMi to sweep) became a hit with fans, even becoming the joke of Korean memes.

Figure 1: The penguin in the middle is YeongMi, with the others being her teammates.

According to Byung Kim, school children even jokingly sweep shouting the phrase when cleaning their classroom. Yet, there is so much more to the legacy of the games than a catchphrase and their most successful curling team getting some air time.

Since the Olympics, four new curling centres are being built across the country as the nation tries to make curling in Korea as big as it is in neighbouring Japan, which improved greatly after hosting the Winter Olympics in 1998.

“More people can enjoy curling and athletes can practise more when the curling centres are completed and follow the success we have already,” said Byung Kim, “Team EunJung began after-school curling activities at Uiseong Curling Centre and are now Olympic medallists.”

The ‘Garlic Girls’ won in their hometown of Uiseong two years ago at the 2016 Pacific-Asia championships and then again in Australia in 2017 and now a new women’s team are looking to make it three Pacific-Asia title is in a year for Korean women. All this and the men winning this competition twice out of the past three years, Korean curling is at an all-time high.

But the question is, can it go higher? Dominance in these championships is one thing, but to create an effective legacy after a championships, there must be major success. So far, Korea have been unsuccessful in winning a medal at a World Curling Championship – with the exception of the World Wheelchair Curling Championships – but wins at the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships could be the beginning of another rise in Korean curling.

Byung Kim is confident that further government investment in the sport can lead to inevitable gold medals in Olympic and world tournaments, “If there are more curling facilities in Korea, the dream of a gold medal could be realised.”

With success already seen in fellow Asian curling nations Olympic Winter Games has already rubbed off on the public. The return to Gangneung will be the first indication as to whether that post-Olympic momentum has continued.

By feature writer, Michael Houston

To keep up-to-date with all the action from the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2018 follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #PACC2018 #curling