By Nicholas Elden
North Korea’s Olympic team arrived in Rio de Janeiro with 31 well-trained athletes, all hoping to make their home country proud and knowing they would suffer the consequences if they failed. North Korea, also known as a “hermit kingdom,” has little to no access with the outside world, and the trend continued for athletes present at the Olympic Games. Interaction with the press and other athletes and sightseeing are forbidden. The athletes were kept on close watch by coaches and training staff.
In previous games, members of the North Korean women’s soccer team were not allowed to give interviews to reporters. This heightened watch on the athletes is likely due to fear that the athletes might defect. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, North Korean athletes were reportedly not allowed to leave their Olympic compound except for training or their athletic events. In Rio, a report from Radio Free Asia’s Korean service suggested that Korean Olympic officials refused to give the athletes free Samsung Galaxy 7 smartphones provided by the Olympic sponsor Samsung.
North Korea began to compete in the Olympic Games in 1972, according to The Next Web. In recent games, the nation has become a powerhouse in weight lifting due to incredibly rigorous training and genetics. The weight lifters tend to have short arms, a long back, and short legs which helps the Korean lifters excel, according to British weight lifting performance director Tommy Yule in the BBC.
North Korea has placed funding in building training facilities and awarded the athletes with cars, cash, houses, and even a highly prized membership in the Workers’ Party of Korea. However, losers have been rumored to end up in prison camps, according to reports by the South Korean media. Official claims of this cannot be confirmed by the athletes or North Korean officials.
Reports of North Korea’s Olympic training are merely rumored since the Korean government does not release the actual training schedules. Popularity of the games has led North Korea to put more funding into the training facilities and North Korean citizens get the chance to watch certain events on state television. The events aired are merely highlights and are shown long after the event took place.
The Olympics continue to be a world stage for nations across the globe to prove themselves with athletic prowess. North Korea is no exception; however, they must acknowledge their losses. The consequences of loss are devastating in a country where Amnesty International says 200,000 citizens are forced to work with little food under threat of execution, especially if the North Koreans lose to a South Korean. Athletes can be forced into those same conditions if they lose.