South Korea’s female skaters under fire for bullying teammate.
Two South Korean speed skaters are under increasing pressure to leave the Pyeongchang Olympics after allegations of bullying emerged.
Almost half a million people have signed a petition on the South Korean presidential office site asking that “Kim Bo-reum and Park Ji-woo forfeit their rights as national athletes and be banned from international competitions including the Olympics.”
The drama began on Monday, when Kim, Park and teammate Noh Seon-yeong finished seventh in the 500m team pursuit heats. Team speed skaters normally skate bunched close together to reduce drag, but Kim and Park left the struggling Noh far behind. She finished four seconds behind her teammates.
After the race was over, Kim blamed Noh for their failure to qualify for the semifinals.
“We were skating well,” Kim told a reporter. “But the last skater [Noh] couldn’t keep up and we had a disappointing score.”
“I was very shocked when I crossed the finish line, because that’s when I realized Noh was not with us,” added Park, a scenario that some have criticized as unlikely given the close-range nature of pursuit speed skating.
Noh was also seen crying after the race, comforted by her coach; Kim and Park didn’t appear to acknowledge her.
The blowback in South Korea has been severe. The petition demanding Kim and Park’s removal from the national team calls it “a clear national disgrace that such people with a personality problem are representing a country in the Olympics.”
Kim’s sponsor, sportswear company NEPA, has also reportedly decided to let her contract expire next month.
An impromptu press conference was held by the Korean skaters Tuesday, but only Kim attended. The coach said Noh, who was conspicuously absent, was “not feeling well.”
Kim issued a tearful statement, saying she apologized to “those who have been affected by what I said during the TV interview yesterday.”
Noh’s journey to the Olympics was already an unusual one, the Korea Herald reports. She is the sister of speed skater Noh Jin-kyu, who tragically died of bone cancer at 23, and she had hoped to honor his memory with an Olympic performance of her own.
Due to a reported “mix-up” by the Korea Skating Union, Noh was initially added to the Olympic squad, but was later told she hadn’t actually met the requirements to be included.
After two other athletes dropped out, Noh was re-added to the team.