Winter Olympics

North Korea's cheerleaders: military discipline and chaperoned bathroom trips

- Andrew Keh, Motoko Rich and Su-hyun Lee - Bron: The New York Times
3 North Korean cheerleaders perform at Ojukheon House, one of the oldest traditional Korean houses in South Korea, in Gangneung on February 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES © AFP

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — A collective murmur rolled through the stands of Kwandong Hockey Center late Monday night. Camera phones were held high. The North Korean cheerleaders had arrived.

“They look very pretty,” said Hyun Myeong-Hwa, 58, of Cheongju, South Korea, who filmed the women as they took their seats 30 minutes before the joint Korean Olympic women’s hockey team played Sweden.

The presence here of the all-female squad of cheerleaders — 229 strong, as part of the larger North Korean delegation at the Olympics — has been politically charged, provoking divided reactions among spectators at the games and those watching from afar. Hyun had mixed feelings, too. But for a moment she rubbernecked like everyone else.

“I do understand the negative criticisms about them being here,” she said.