The South Korean women's curling team in action at the Winter Olympics. Photo: AFP / Wang Zhao
The South Korean women's curling team in action at the Winter Olympics. Photo: AFP / Wang Zhao

Social media in South Korea is buzzing with their antics after they captured the hearts of a nation. In the slow-motion world of women’s curling, five school friends, known as “the Garlic Girls”, have become an overnight sensation at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

On Friday, Koreans will be glued to their televisions, computers and smartphones as Kim Eun-jung, Kim Yeong-mi, Kim Kyeong-ae, Kim Seon-yeong and Kim Cho-hi, known also as Team Kim because of their surnames, take on arch-rivals Japan in the semi-finals of the competition.

“It’s my favorite sport at the Olympics,” Ji Yu-min, 20, a student, told the BBC. “I watch it with my family and we all cheer as the stones fly.”

Fascination has mingled with consternation in one of the more leisurely sports at the Games.

“It is pretty strange to watch and looks a bit like cleaners working,” joked Cha Soon-ja, 44, who owns a women’s fashion outlet before admitting that it was totally addictive. “I even watched a match this morning.”

For Team Kim, this has been an expected brush with fame. Online posts about their remarkable winning run to the semis have included memes and parody videos, with floor mops and robot vacuum cleaners. All of them have gone viral.

YouTube video

As for their nickname, the “Garlic Girls”, it is a reference from the small garlic-producing region they come from. Still, the adulation has come as a pleasant surprise.

“Even when we had a national competition, we played without any crowd because curling has been unpopular and not well known,” Kim Yeong-mi told a media conference. “We really didn’t expect many people would come to watch us. We’re just grateful for that.”

Reflecting this newfound interest in the sport, the Gangneung Curling Center has been nearly packed out with fans for South Korea’s games.

Earlier in the week, the “Garlic Girls” thumped the Olympic Athletes from Russia 11-2 to continue their winning streak. They ended the preliminary round tournament on Thursday by beating Denmark 9-3 to warm up for their showdown with Japan.

“I wasn’t interested in either curling or the Winter Olympics but after watching games at home, I’ve started to like them, they’re so cool,” said Park Jin-ju, 31, a housewife who came with her husband to watch them play.

Ice cool would be more appropriate for these accidental stars of the show.

– with Reuters