The Ingredient Propelling One Team to Olympic Victory

February 21, 2018

Athletes have long adhered to specific diets to insure optimal performance. Take, for example, Tom Brady who claims his highly publicized diet is central to his athletic success. Or Chloe Kim whose love of churros and breakfast sandwiches vaulted her to Olympic gold (maybe). And then there’s the South Korean women’s curling team who have captivated spectators and competitors alike with an unexpected winning streak that’s launched them into the semifinals. The secret to their success, it seems, could be a certain kicky allium: garlic.

The Korean press have come to calling the increasingly successful team the Garlic Girls. Why is that? The team of five—Kim Yeong-mi and Kim Kyeong-ae (who are sisters), Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, and alternate Kim Cho-hi—hail from Uiseong County, a region known for its garlic production. The mayor of the province claims their garlic is the finest in the world—there is a literal garlic tower dotting a local road.

The team is gaining considerable attention, especially as they curl their way closer to a medal. People can't get enough of their self-designated nicknames: Yogurt, Steak, Sunny (like sunny-side up), Cookie, and Pancake (there's a food theme here!). And Eun-jung, the team's leader, has even taken on meme-status for her intense concentration face on the ice.

Aside from garlic, the province is one of the few places in Korea to boast a curling facility. In 2006, a government official raised the funds to bring one to the region. The women of the Olympic team began training around then. In a conversation with The New York Times, some local Koreans are claiming that the garlic is the secret to the team's sustained Olympic success. Could this be the case? Perhaps. Could it also be years of practice and team work? Maybe!

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.