Fifty-six North Korean athletes will be competing in the London Olympics, which kick off later today. The country will be represented in soccer, wrestling, judo, table tennis, weightlifting, synchronized swimming, diving, boxing, archery, shooting, and both the mens and womens marathon.
The team represents nearly every province of North Korea, although it is unsurprising that more than 50% percent of the North Korean athletes originate from privileged Pyongyang. Another 11% are from South Hamkyung Province and 9% from South Pyongan Province.
Interestingly, nearly 75% of North Korea’s Olympic delegation is female, albeit that this includes 20 members of the women’s soccer team, which won its first match against Columbia by 2 to 0 two nights ago. The superiority of North Korea’s female athletes is not a recent trend, either; 5 of 6 North Korean medalists in the 2008 Beijing games were also women.
▲ Athletes to Watch
Jon Myong Hwa and Kim Un Hyang: These two soccer players were a part of North Korea’s FIFA’s U-17 Women’s World Cup winning team in 2008. Now, they are both 18 years old, and have spent four years practicing for this tournament. Both have experience of training in Germany with the team FCC Turbine Potsdam. In probably the most keenly awaited game, North Korea is scheduled to play the United States on July 31st.
An Kum Ae: Coming off of a silver medal in the Beijing Olympics, this North Korean judoka will be seeking a gold medal in London. Other notable judo athletes from the DPRK are women’s lightweight Won Ok Im and men’s lightweight Pak Chol Min, who both received bronze medals in Beijing.
Song Nam Kim: This table tennis player will be representing North Korea in both singles and team events. He will be in the team that will face the South Korean team in a hotly anticipated match on August 3rd.
However, unfortunately for anyone hoping to see a big North Korean medal haul, neither of the country’s two gold medalists from the Beijing games, Hong Un Jong in gymnastics and Pak Hyong Suk in weightlifting, will be competing in the London games.
▲ “Citius, Altius, Fortius”
The North Korean Olympic Team appears willing to go to great lengths to achieve victory, which has led it into controversy. Infamously, five women’s soccer players tested positive for steroids in 2011, leading FIFA to ban the team from competing in the 2015 Women’s World Cup and hand the coach a six-year suspension. Nevertheless, much to the chagrin of Australia, which missed out as a result, the country is still allowed to compete in London, and although none of the five is on the Olympic team, the country will still be hoping for big things.
According to one defector, North Korea has been producing steroids on a state-wide level for years for its athletes, although the North Koreans officially blamed musk deer treatment for the soccer players’ failed drug tests a year ago.
The North Korean gymnastics team is also banned from this year’s Olympics due to age falsification. The suspension came after the International Olympic Committee discovered that gymnast Hong Su Jong had listed the three different birthdates in international competitions in the past. Further investigation revealed that she was officially too young at 14 to have competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Like any other country, the North Korean regime will be hoping that a solid, medal-winning performance on the world stage will bolster nationalist sentiment. The country has the rights to broadcast the London Games to its citizens, and must surely be keen to make use of them. Yet, North Korea’s attempts to gain an advantage in Olympic competition through foul play have only besmirched the country’s image in the international community, and raised the specter of some of the cheating that communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe were involved in the 1980s.
▲ Making History before Kick-off
The London Games will be North Korea’s 9th Olympic appearance. Although the team has been noticeably trying to lay low before the games, there has already been some coverage of incidents even before a javelin has been thrown in anger. At the DPRK-Columbia preliminary soccer match, Olympic organizers displayed the South Korean flag alongside images of the North Korean soccer team. This greatly upset the North Koreans and was quite the embarrassment of the London Olympic Committee. Media also brought attention to a North Korean table tennis official who threw his towel at South Korean journalists out of frustration. With the extent of media presence at the Olympics, it will be difficult for North Korea to stay out of the spotlight.