North Korea's Key to Olympic Medals: Refrigerators For Winners, Labor Camp Threat for Losers


Secret to North Korea's Olympic Success

Bang was a student athlete in Taewondo in the North. Training involved four hours of "ideological education" per week aimed at cultivating loyalty to the leader.

"They play with a different mind set," said another North Korean defector to the South, Kim Yo-Han. "An absolute loyalty towards the country and the leader is the core foundation of the North Korean athletes' sportsmanship."

Kim's father was a soccer coach and mother was a rhythmic gymnastics coach in the North.

Upon returning home, gold medal athletes like Kim Un-Guk and An Gum-Ae would be rewarded with handsome prize money, an apartment, a car, and additional perks like refrigerators and television sets.

But most of all, they will be rewarded with a huge jump in social status with the title of "hero" or "people's athlete."

But poor performances, especially losing to their archenemy nations like the United States or South Korea, have consequences. Rumors of athletes being sent directly to labor camps upon arriving home are not confirmed, but it is a common procedure to open "review meetings" after the sports events in which participants "assess" their own and each other's games, said Kim Yo-Han.

If during that process the person is determined "disloyal" to their Dear Leader, the athlete is likely to be expelled from the sports organization and at times sent to labor camps.

Yunjoo Lim and Sungeun Lee contributed to this report

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