GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- In a span of days, the South Korean women's curling team has gone from being a curious afterthought to a darling of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, rewriting the country's curling history with each match.
And head coach Kim Min-jung is worried that her athletes may get carried away by all the attention.
South Korea finished first in the round robin session with an 8-1 record and became the first team to clinch a berth in the semifinals. As the top seed, it will face the fourth-seeded Japan, the only country to beat South Korea in the round robin play.
South Korea capped off its remarkable run with two more wins on Wednesday, including a 9-3 victory over Denmark. But after the win, the curlers, led by skip Kim Eun-jung, declined to speak to reporters.
Kim Min-jung explained later that she didn't want her curlers to be too distracted by their newfound popularity.
"Now is the time to stay composed," the coach said. "We have to take a step back and breathe a bit before the semifinals (on Friday). It's critical for us to really bear down and keep the momentum going for the rest of the Olympics."
South Korea has never reached the semifinals in Olympic curling. But it wasn't just the unlikely victories -- South Korea stunned Canada in the round robin -- that made the team so popular. Kim Eun-jung, the bespectacled skip, has become almost a cult hero, and her ability to keep a stone face over the course of a match has inspired memes. The team's lead, Kim Yeong-mi, is now a household name because Kim Eun-jung yells her first name to get the lead to sweep harder.
And yet these curlers have claimed they had no idea they had become such beloved figures until reporters from home and overseas began stopping them for interviews in the mixed zone after matches. That's because the curlers have handed in their cell phones and cut themselves off from the outside world -- they aren't even watching television.
Coach Kim said her athletes turned in their phones voluntarily even before the Olympics began.
"I think they wanted to go out there and write Korean curling history, and it's good to see them doing just that," she added. "They are proud to be promoting the sport of curling." (Yonhap)