Young Korean team thriving off Olympic energy

  • Photos © WCF / Richard Gray

It's impossible not to hear the Korean crowd during any given game at the 2018 Olympics. Every session, stands are filled with bundled-up locals who don't hold back any emotion while cheering on their team in the new discipline. Neither does the Korean team itself, who display dramatic fist pumps, slaps on the back and unfiltered facial expressions of pure passion.

Welcome to the Olympic Games.

No matter the outcome of the shot, the crowd is along for the ride with the young mixed doubles pair of Kijeong Lee, 22, and Hyeji Jang, 20.

"I think it was a good thing, actually, that they aren't very knowledgeable [of curling] because even when I make a mistake they would cheer, so we would gain confidence from their support," said Jang.

As hosts, the distractions at a Winter Games could easily be overwhelming. Even though their faces are on display around Korea, the two remain focused on the competition at hand.

"Basically, we don't even realise we are in the Olympic Games in PyeongChang because we just go to the Olympic village and we just play and we follow the routines we have," said Lee. "So, we don't feel any extra encouragement from being in Korea except for the fact the people watching the games are mostly Korean. That's the only difference that make us realise that we're in Korea."

After watching Lee play, one would find that hard to believe. It's clear the male player is thriving off the crowd and having the time of his life. The secret to the team's focus could simply be the dynamic of the duo. While Lee is waving to the crowd, Jang is smiling modestly to their fans.
"Having only players that are high tempered isn't always a good thing. So, if one player has a low temper and one player has a high temper that makes for a good balance," said Jang.
"Before the games we're trying to have our own time to focus on our mental health. For example, we are trying meditation and it's been quite helpful. By having routines and following routines we are trying to help our mentality, so we can do good in our games," said Jang.
In any sport, let alone the Olympics, it's easy to get wrapped up in the moment. Adrenaline is pumping, maybe more than the athlete has ever experienced before. It's especially unique playing in front of a vocal crowd who cheer twice - once when the Korean stone is in the house, and again, even louder when the score gets placed on the board. But their coach, Jim Cotter of Canada, has been nothing but impressed by the pair and their ability to remain on task.

"With being a younger team, I've been very happy with how they responded to the crowd. It's the first time they've had a lot of attention and they are feeding off the crowd very well. They've been able to bounce back. I'm very impressed with them - you know, they're 20-22 years old - very young," said Cotter. "They're actually pretty funny [off the ice] they crack a lot of jokes and have fun. Excited of course, but they just go about their business and crack jokes and stay light."

The pro-Korean crowd have a few more chances to cheer on their team as round-robin comes to a close. With play-offs around the corner, the home team won't be holding anything back, much like their fans.

After the Mixed Doubles is finished, the traditional four person curling teams will take to the ice. The relatively unknowledgeable crowd will be treated with more stones in play, more players and more yelling - which of course means more cheering.

For all the curling action from the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 follow the World Curling Federation on Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) Twitter and Instagram (@worldcurling) and use the hashtags: #curling #PyeongChang2018

by feature writer Emily Dwyer