PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - North Korea’s Kim Ryon Hyang glided gently down the mountain to take 67th place after the first run of the women’s giant slalom on Thursday but won by far the biggest ovation, thanks to the choreographed efforts of around 100 cheerleaders.
Kim was last to take to the mountain in the field of 79 skiers, and the cheerleaders stood in unison to chant her name as she charted her painstaking descent through the 49 gates.
She set the slowest time out of the skiers who completed the first run, avoiding the fate of the 11 competitors that tumbled on the way down, finishing nearly half a minute behind leader Manuela Moelgg of Italy. A Maltese skier was later disqualified.
North Korea’s cheerleaders, who vastly outnumber its athletes, have been one of the sensations of the Games, presenting an unforgettable spectacle with their bright red outfits, miniature flags and repertoire of chants and songs, often accompanied by swaying in unison.
Kim waved cheerfully to them with her ski poles as she made her way off the course.
“I have the confidence that one day in the coming international competition, we can do this!” she told reporters.
“I’m gratefully supported from the cheer group, and then in the future international competition I will do my best to win a medal.”
Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by John O'Brien