The South Korean women's curling team celebrate after beating Japan. Photo: Reuters / Cathal Mcnaughton
The South Korean women's curling team celebrate after beating Japan. Photo: Reuters / Cathal Mcnaughton

They were a national sensation after making it to the last four in the women’s curling at the Winter Olympics. But now, the “Garlic Girls” have gone viral across the globe after setting up a gold medal showdown with Sweden on Sunday.

Social media has been buzzing about the funky South Korean team of lifelong friends with quirky nicknames such as “Pancake” and “Steak” after their preferred breakfast dishes.

Indeed, the “Garlic Girls” are the central characters in an Olympic fairytale, which will be remembered after Pyeongchang 2018 fades into sporting history. First of all, their nickname relates to their hometown, which is famed for growing garlic. Two of the team are sisters, while all of their surnames are Kim.

On Friday, South Koreans were glued to their televisions, computers and smartphones as Kim Eun-jung, Kim Yeong-mi, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Seon-yeong and Kim Cho-hi beat arch-rivals Japan 8-7 in a nerve-shredding extra end.

“I’m very proud of them,” said Lee Ji-sun, 26, a big fan of the “Garlic Girls”. “They are showing we can do well even in new sporting events.”

Many have been mesmerized by the South Korean “skip”, or captain, Kim Eun-jung, with her owl-eyed glasses. But then, all of them have not only captured the hearts of a nation but a multimillion global audience with their awe-inspiring antics.

At their old high school in Uiseong, South Korea’s new capital of curling, more than 300 hundred fans gathered around a big screen to watch them. This farming region is home to four of the five members of the “Garlic Girls.”

“My hands were sweating because it was such a tight game [against Japan] but I‘m thrilled now because we are through to the final and we will win the gold,” Go Kyung-soo said after watching the game at the high school.

Still, despite the viral videos and the team’s exploits, not everyone has become a curling expert.

Kim Won-hee, 92, the grandmother to “skip” Kim Eun-jung admitted she was still confused by the sport even though she was proud of her Olympian relative.

“At first I didn’t even know what curling was. Her parents were busy giving her rides there [to the arena] and back and she kept coming home with medals, but I couldn’t understand what it was. Granny didn’t know.

“I still don’t understand what they are doing,” she added with a smile.

Read: ‘Garlic Girls’ have sweet smell of success at the Olympics

A nation in ‘mourning’

Sporting shocks do not come any bigger than this. Canada has long been a powerhouse in men’s ice hockey but a stunning string of defeats in the Winter Olympics has left the nation in an unfamiliar state of mourning.

Perhaps, the biggest blow to the country’s psyche came on Friday when the defending champions lost in the semi-finals to Germany.

“Dark day for Canadian hockey,” read the headline on the online edition of Canada’s National Post newspaper. The Toronto Sun headline read: “Olympic shocker” and called the loss “a dark night for a Hockey Canada program that bills itself as a world leader in the sport.”

While the absence of National Hockey League players in South Korea has created a more wide-open men’s tournament, Canada were still heavy favorites to beat Germany.

The men’s defeat came just one day after the women’s side were denied a fifth consecutive Olympic gold in a shootout against the United States.

Another Russian fails drugs test

A second Russian athlete has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug at the Games. This is a major blow for the country’s hopes of regaining its Olympic status after years of doping scandals.

Nadezhda Sergeeva, who competed in the bobsleigh competition, tested positive for a heart drug on Feb. 18, five days after a previous test returned a negative result for her, the Russian Bobsleigh Federation announced in a statement.

“On Feb. 13, her sample was clean. The team’s medical staff did not prescribe the drug to the athlete,” the federation said in a post on its official Facebook page.”

Earlier this week, Russian curling medalist Alexander Krushelnitsky agreed to hand back his mixed-team bronze medal after testing positive for meldonium, which an endurance-enhancing drug.

– with Reuters and AFP