One of the weirdest spectacles at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang is a train of 229 young, female cheerleaders from the hermetically sealed dictatorship of North Korea. They’re impeccably, if somewhat oddly, dressed in matching outfits. The cameras can’t get enough of them. And critics grumble that they’re lending charm to a repressive regime.
Here’s what to know:
Chosen for looks and loyalty
Little is known about the North Korean cheerleaders, but defectors from the world’s most secretive nation have said they’re drawn from elite families closely tied into the ruling class. Often called North Korea’s “army of beauties,” they must be at least 5’3” tall and in their early twenties, according to a report in The New York Times. In the past, the squad even included Ri Sol Ju, the wife-to-be of President Kim Jong-un.
Isolated and closely guarded
For the duration of the Winter Olympics, the North Korean cheerleaders are staying in an isolated resort an hour and a half from PyeongChang, according to the Times report. They ride to Winter Olympics events in eight buses with a police escort and are chaperoned by minders who prevent contact with strangers and of course the unthinkable: defection. They enter and exit Olympic venues with military precision, and their restroom breaks happen in groups.
Getting more buzz than most athletes
The North Korean cheerleaders are the “stars of the Olympics,” joked Jimmy Kimmel on Monday night, before asking his audience to try to mimic their swaying and singing. He wasn’t exactly wrong. The North Korean women have been mobbed by media wherever they go, including a trip to a South Korean beach on Tuesday where hundreds of reporters descended for a glimpse, according to a report by ABC, keeping about 1,000 police, security agents and minders busy. But North Korea’s charm offensive …read more