PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- At the Winter Olympics, an intriguing story has emerged, with North Korea bringing its own . Call them gold medalists in propaganda.
The historic joint North and South Korean hockey team has been a huge draw, but what many are watching is not even on the ice. It's the matching red uniforms and highly synchronized movements of North Korea's official cheer squad.
Kim Jong Un's so-called "army of beauties" are chosen for their looks and loyalty to the regime. Kim's wife, Ri Sol Ju, is a former member. They are here to cheer for both Koreas, but their cheers are not as sophisticated as their routines, amounting to a generic "go team."
Members of the cheer squad make up nearly half of North Korea's delegation of more than 500 people, just 22 of which are actual athletes. It's a North Korean charm offensive some South Koreans just find offensive.
But now it's their "cheer gear" that's causing a stir. Waving the unified Korean flag? That was OK. But then out came masks that resemble a young Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and Kim Jong Un's grandfather. That made some South Koreans angry, since they saw it as propaganda. Some even started a petition demanding the South Korean government investigate the incident.
The government did just that, and said the North Koreans assured them the masks were not meant to represent the North's founding father, since using his face for cheerleading would likely be punishable by death. It was another reminder of the inconvenient truth behind all that Olympic spirit.