SEOUL, Nov 15, (AFP): The “Garlic Girls” South Korean curling team who became a media sensation with their unlikely run to the Winter Olympics final detailed their coaches’ alleged verbal abuse and intrusive control on Thursday. The five women from a small rural town known for garlic farming were rank outsiders at the South’s Pyeongchang Games in February, but ended up winning silver, their giant-killing feats along the way earning them celebrity status. But last week they went public with accusations against their coaches of verbal abuse and exploitation – a rare move in the South’s close-knit and hierarchical sporting system, where coaches are hugely powerful.
“We have had a very difficult time, feeling helpless and desperate under repression, verbal abuse and unfair treatment,” team member Kim Seon-yeong told a press conference Thursday with her four colleagues. The team accused the coaches of trying to run Korean curling like a family fiefdom: the husband of their head coach Kim Min-jung is former national men’s team coach Jang Ban-seok, while her father Kim Kyung-doo is a former vice-president of the Korean Curling Federation (KCF).
The coaches berated the five for speaking to other athletes, fans or journalists at competitions, the team said in a statement, and censored all letters or gifts from fans. At the same time, the curlers had been pressured to sing the Kim family’s praises during media interviews, while the coaches arbitrarily decided which public events the women should attend. According to the team, the coaches sought to sideline glasses-wearing captain Kim Eun-jung – whose trademark stare became an emblem of the Pyeongchang Games – after she confronted them over how donations and prize money were being spent.