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Missteps and mayhem: the darker side of the Games

Gaffe-prone media, unruly athletes and cyberbullying plagued PyeongChang
Feb 28,2018
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The Dutch men’s speed skating team throw a huge replica medal into a crowd on Feb. 22, left, resulting in one victim needing 10 stitches, right. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
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Left: A Canadian Olympian along with his wife and trainer were arrested for stealing a car in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, on Feb. 23. Right: A picture of The Times of London’s incorrect claims about Jeju Island on the Korean unification flag in a Feb. 10 report. [YONHAP]
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Olympic Athletes from Russia sing their national anthem during the medal ceremony after their game on Sunday, violating IOC rules on neutrality. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
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Speed skater Kim Bo-reum bows to the crowd after winning silver at the women's mass start on Feb. 22 to apologize for her comments about Noh Seon-yeong after the team pursuit race on Feb. 19. [YONHAP]
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics wasn’t all back-to-back 1080s and cries of “Yeong-mi.” The international event also saw its fair share of media gaffes, athletes breaking the rules, cyberbullying and unsportsmanlike behavior.



Media mistakes

Not even three days into the Olympics, the Games’ official U.S. broadcaster NBC Sports had to issue an apology for inappropriate comments by a commentator.

NBC analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo, a so-called East Asia expert, asserted during the opening ceremony on Feb. 9 that “every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.”

His comments incensed many Koreans who felt Ramo had distorted their views on Japanese colonization, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.

“No South Korean would attribute the rapid growth and transformation of its economy, technology and political/cultural development to the Japanese imperialism,” read one online petition that demanded the company to issue an apology, which NBC later did.

But the Ramo incident wasn’t even the first time NBC ran into trouble during the Olympics.

The broadcaster received mounting criticism for refusing to pronounce Pyeongchang correctly. After apparently being informed of several different ways to say the name, NBC settled on pronouncing the last syllable “chayng,” rhyming with “twang.”

Despite criticism from experts including the Asian American Journalists Association, NBC insisted on sticking to its chosen pronunciation.

“It’s cleaner,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, according to the Washington Post.

NBC wasn’t the only media organization to fall foul of ignorant journalism.

The Times of London was left red-faced after it printed an image of the unification flag being carried at the opening ceremony with a circle around Jeju Island on Feb. 10. The caption alongside the image read: “The flag carried by the Korean athletes proved controversial…because it appeared to lay claim to an island, circled, owned by Japan.”

The Times later issued an apology saying it mistook Jeju for the Dokdo islets, which Japan calls Takeshima. The islets are disputed territory and were left out of the unification flag.

Bad behavior

When it comes to breaking the rules in PyeongChang, Canadian skier David Duncan takes home gold.

The Olympian was arrested by authorities along with his wife Maja Duncan and trainer William Raine after allegedly stealing a car in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, on Friday.

The trio was pulled over in a Hummer while driving to the Olympic Village, less than 2 miles from their starting point, and were detained overnight according to Canada’s Global News, which said it received confirmation from the Gangwon Provincial Police Agency.

All three Canadians were arrested for car theft while Raine had an additional charge of driving under the influence. They told police that they took the vehicle because it was too cold outside - the lowest temperature that day was about 1 degree Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit).

The skier apologized on the Canadian Olympic Committee website that his behavior “demonstrated poor judgment and was not up to standards expected.”

The Netherlands men’s speed skating team pursuit athletes actually hospitalized a woman after throwing a fake medal into a crowd at a gathering to celebrate their bronze medal win at Heineken House in Gangneung, Gangwon, last Thursday.

It is tradition for Dutch competitors to be given a giant replica of their medal during the typically raucous Heineken House celebration. This is then handed to people in the crowd, who pass it around the room.

Dutch skaters Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen, Patrick Roest and Koen Verweij, apparently too excited about their win, skipped the traditional smooth transfer and threw the medal into the crowd, causing one woman to need 10 stitches in the side of her head.

“The left side of my head still feels numb, even after several days,” the victim wrote on Instagram.

Another victim received a minor injury to her nose.

“Hello Korean fans. I apologize for the injury last night…” wrote Kramer on Twitter after the event. “You came here to cheer the Netherlands’ ice sports team. But accidents happen and I apologize for this.”

Kramer later said at a press conference that he met the hospitalized victim and apologized to her, but the victim claimed that she never received an apology or met with Kramer or any other member of the team.

The list of apologies doesn’t stop there.

Adam Pengilly, a British member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and former skeleton racer, was sent home after an altercation with a volunteer security guard in Pyeongchang County on Feb. 15.

Pengilly, a member of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, told The Times that he was stopped from taking an unauthorized route after missing a bus to an arena.

Controversy brewed when the guard tried to take a photo of his accreditation, which the IOC member refused, proceeding to run past him.

“I said, ‘No,’ and then swore at him, which I shouldn’t have done, then ran past him,” he said. “Apparently the CCTV looks like I pushed him but I didn’t.

But IOC spokesman Mark Adams said to his understanding “some physical contact” was involved, before promising to check the footage.

“I am sorry for running past you when you had asked me to stop,” Pengilly wrote in a letter to the security guard published by the IOC. “I did not know that you fell over trying to chase me and I hope that you are fine.

“I am also sorry for swearing and hope that you did not misunderstand what I was saying,” he added.



Online feuds

Five-time world champion short-track speed skater Fan Kexin of China was disqualified several times for impeding during the women’s 500-meter semifinal and the women’s 3,000-meter final, which some claim were unfair penalties given by biased referees.

Chinese fans angry at Fan’s exclusion took to the internet, flooding Korean web portal Naver Sports with offensive comments about Korea. It wasn’t long before Korean commenters started to fight back.

“You shameless people don’t have any class,” wrote one Chinese user on Naver Sports. “Having this year’s Winter Olympics in your place is such an insult to the Games.” Another said, “We will show your [country] what is the real country at [Beijing Olympics]. Your father is always your father.”

On the Korean users’ end, one comment read, “As I thought, we are on different levels,” while another said, “The only good Chinese are dead Chinese.”

After an intense war of inappropriate comments, Naver eventually stepped in to suspend accounts from “abuse-suspicious locations.”

The feud with China wasn’t the only time that Korean netizens let their emotions get the better of them online.

After Korea’s Choi Min-jeong was accused of interfering with Kim Boutin of Canada during the women’s 500-meter final, incensed Korean fans took to social media to attack Boutin, leaving abusive messages and threats that ultimately forced her to shut down her accounts for the rest of the Olympics.

“Congratulations on a dirty medal,” one tweeted, while another wrote, “You have been teaching Kim Boutin how to cheat, Canada!!”

Still, Boutin didn’t blame the whole of Korea for the incident.

“I don’t think all Koreans are like that,” Boutin told reporters after the 1,500-meter race on Feb. 17, where she won bronze and Choi won gold. “I really like this country. It hurts me, of course. But I am not angry about this. I think it is important to continue to enjoy what we do.”

The two skaters later made amends when they bumped into each other at the Gangneung Olympic Village.



Unsportsmanlike conduct

Korean speed skater Kim Bo-reum also experienced a backlash after implying that her teammate Noh Seon-yeong was to blame for the team’s failure to advance to the semifinals in the women’s team pursuit held on Feb. 19.

In team pursuit, the final skater plays a crucial role as the clock only stops when the last one reaches the finish line. As such, teams usually stick together throughout the race.

But Noh fell behind Kim and teammate Park Ji-woo by almost four whole seconds.

“We raced as fast as we could in the final lap,” said Kim, “but since the final record is determined by the time the last racer of a team crosses the finish line…”

Her comment didn’t sit well with many Koreans, who felt that she was turning on her teammate rather than acknowledging their lack of teamwork.

Outraged by her remark, over 600,000 Koreans took to the Blue House online petition page to demand Kim’s expulsion from the Korea Skating Union.

“[Kim and Park] disgraced [South Korea] on an international level by showing that they were racing with an ulterior motive,” wrote one petitioner. “No matter where in the world people watched the broadcast, no one is going to be complimenting Korea’s teamwork.”

Kim apologized at a press conference and continued with the Games to receive silver at the women’s mass start race on Saturday. But a smile was nowhere to be found on her face after she medaled.

“All I could say was sorry,” said teary-eyed Kim, who proceeded to kneel on her knees and bow to the crowd as a sign of repentance.

Kim wasn’t the only one to be accused of unsportsmanlike behavior.

Jocelyne Larocque, a defender on the Canadian women’s ice hockey team, removed her silver medal seconds after it was placed around her neck during the medal ceremony on Feb. 22.

Canada was defeated by the United States 3-2 and Larocque, apparently overcome with emotion after the incredibly close game, ignored cries from the crowd and her teammates and refused to put the medal back on.

“It’s just hard,” said the 2014 Sochi gold medalist. “You work so hard. We wanted gold but didn’t get it.”

It was particularly gut-wrenching since Canada’s women’s ice hockey team hasn’t missed out on gold at the Winter Games since the 1998 Nagano Olympics - a nearly 20-year streak.

As they lined up to accept silver, most of the Canadian players tried hard to fight tears.

Forbidden anthem

Though the Russian national anthem was banned by the IOC, the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) still loudly sang it over the top of the Olympic song during the men’s ice hockey medal ceremony on Sunday. The OAR beat Germany 4-3 in the final.

“We’re prohibited from having the flag so we had to do something at least,” defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich told CNN. “It was in our souls and heart.”

Russian military spies have also been accused of attempting to hack the Olympics through officials’ computers. According to U.S. intelligence, the hackers also attempted to make it look like North Korea was behind the attack.

Analysts presume it was a form of retaliation against the International Olympic Committee for banning Russia from the Winter Olympics for its state-sponsored doping scandal.

The PyeongChang Organizing Committee acknowledged it was hit by cyber attacks during the opening ceremony, but has yet to confirm whether Russia is responsible.

It wouldn’t be the first time Russia has targeted the Olympics.

At the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, Soviet Intelligence produced leaflets that appeared to be from the Klu Klux Klan and threatened violence against African athletes as an attempt to embarrass the United States, Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, told the Washington Post. The 1984 effort failed as the U.S. government was quick to reveal the Soviet plot.

BY LAURA SONG [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]