SEOUL (AFP) - The coaches of South Korea‘s “Garlic Girls” curling team, who shot to fame by winning Olympic silver in February, resigned Tuesday after the athletes accused them of verbal abuse and exploitation.
Nicknamed for their small hometown -- which is famous for farming the pungent bulb -- they were rank outsiders at South Korea’s Pyeongchang Games, and became a media sensation as they swept their way to the tournament final.
But last month they publicly accused their coaches of verbal abuse and intrusive control, saying the managers had berated them for speaking to other athletes and journalists, and had censored letters and gifts from fans.
South Korea's "Garlic Girls" women's curling team (Yonhap)
The team accused the coaches of trying to run Korean curling like a family fiefdom: the husband of their head coach Kim Min-jung is a former national men‘s team coach, while her father Kim Kyung-doo is a former vice president of the Korean Curling Federation (KCF).
In an emailed statement, Kim Kyung-doo apologised for causing “huge disappointment and concern” to the curlers and the public, and said all three family members would resign from curling.
“I sincerely apologise to the athletes for causing great pain with my poor manner of expression,” Kim said.
“From this point, my family and I will step away from curling,” he added.
Kim said he will “faithfully” cooperate with the ongoing inquiry by the South’s sports ministry and the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee.
The team‘s giant-killing feats at the Olympics despite limited funding had boosted the popularity of their little-known sport in South Korea.
“I hope the interest in curling will not die down because of me,” Kim said, adding: “I sincerely wish the athletes will no longer suffer and grow further.”
The curlers are also known as “Team Kim” for their shared surname, and use food-based nicknames for ease of identification: the captain is Annie -- a brand of yogurt -- while Kim Yeong-mi is Pancake, Kim Kyeong-ae is Steak, Kim Seon-yeong is Sunny -- as in “sunny side up” -- and Kim Cho-hee is Chocho, a type of cookie.
But despite their Olympic silver, they failed to win the national trials in August and have since missed out on international competition, slipping from seventh to 14th in the world rankings, and are now seeking new coaches.