WONJU, Gangwon Province -- From the unified march of warring South and North Korean athletes to the spectacular displays of K-pop music, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics provided some of its most stunning moments during the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
(Shot by Park Hyun-koo / Edited by Park Ju-young)
But one group in particular has received the lion’s share of attention from home and abroad: pink-suited volunteer dancers.
In a tightly choreographed performance under their pink ski pants and Soohorang hats, the dancers performed non-stop for an hour in a giant circle at the center of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium under the frigid weather.
The Korea Herald interviewed five of the 69 dancers from Friday’s opening ceremony, who now help guide athletes, fans and media around the Olympic clusters throughout the games.
Olympic volunteers who danced in a giant circle at the opening ceremony of the Feb. 9 PyeongChang Winter Olympics display some of their coordinated dance moves Monday in an interview with The Korea Herald. Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald
Park Na-won, Kim Min-jeong, Yun Sang-yun, An Eun-ji and Choi Min-gyung, all of whom are college students in their early 20s, said they did not expect their coordinated dance moves to get “this much attention” from media at home and abroad.
“We never expected so much praise and attention for such a role,” said Park Na-won, 22, who was recruited as an unpaid Olympic volunteer last year to help host the Games and was selected as tone of the dancers a few weeks before the ceremony.
“Most of all, it took us all by surprise when we were told to do the dance in the middle of the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony,” Park said. “Now that it’s over, I feel both relieved and proud.”
The five interviewees are among 24,000 local and foreign volunteers and performers for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games that will end March 18.
While they might not compete for medals, the energetic and charming dancing of the volunteers brought cheers from the audience and the internet where thousands of Facebook and Twitter posts were shared around the world following the event, praising their impressive stamina.
Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald
“People were increasingly curious about our tiger hats, asking me where to get one of these. Some athletes even took photos with us while marching during the parade,” said Kim Min-jeong, 23, who came from Yongin, Gyeonggi province.
The fuzzy, white tiger, or Soohorang, whose name means “protection tiger,” is the Olympic emblematic animal for PyeongChang that can be purchased at the Olympic official stores in Gangneung Olympic Park and PyeongChang Olympic Plaza.
“Some of those moments I will keep forever,” Kim added. “I was surrounded by tens of thousands of audience members, and time passed so swiftly during the hour-long performance.”
Choi Min-gyung, 22, said the stadium looked so much different from the one she saw during the rehearsals. “At the rehearsals, it was really hard to follow and memorize dance moves, but the fatigue went away by looking at the full audience straight in the eye who began cheering.”
While their viral dance routines looked extremely simple and easy to follow, the dancers also improvised choreography to parts of the K-pop music, including Psy’s global smash hit “Gangnam Style” when they began to do the South Korean singer’s iconic “horsey” dance.
“I never felt the cold,” said An Eun-ji, 25, another Olympic volunteer who was part of the giant circle. “It felt more like a party than a performance. We practiced dancing five to six hours over the past ten days, and were ready to step on the stage. Even the improvised dancing was so much fun with athletes from abroad dancing together and taking photos,” An said.
“My mom said she’s so proud of me,” An added.
Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald
While the dancers of the Olympics received the most attention from the media, many of the more quiet, young volunteers are stationed outdoors near sports venues, roads and in parking lots in the remote, mountainous region of Gangwon Province, according to Yun Sang-yun, 24.
With wind chills often plunging to minus 15 degrees Celsius in the region in one of the coldest Winter Games in the history of the Olympics, the passionate volunteers deserve more attention and appreciation for their dedication, Yun said.
“They help domestic and foreign visitors enjoy the Games in the cold weather, and we feel honored to represent them at the opening ceremony,” Yun said. “They are the real unsung heroes.”
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