A great Deadspin piece on the North Korean national hockey (!) squad, playing a low-level tournament in South Africa:
“In the first game of the tournament, I had noticed that the North Korean players were handing each other sticks as they changed shifts. They didn’t have enough.
Ri bought six new carbon-fiber sticks at the arena, which he said cost a lot less than he’d pay in North Korea. But with more sticks broken as the tournament wore on, the team was still short. On the day of the championship, Ri attempted to trade a North Korea team jersey for an extra stick from one of the Irish players.
There was noticeable age to the rest of North Korea’s equipment. The team captain’s gloves looked as if they’d been used in combat. Their leather had been chafed thin, and they were covered in patch jobs where there weren’t any cuts and tears. I showed pictures of them to someone at Sher-Wood, the company that made the gloves; I was told they were at least 12 years old.”
I’m always fascinated by North Korean athletics and, in particular, those athletes deemed worthy of actually getting to leave the country and risk exposure to godless capitalism. With something like the World Cup, it would be an obvious propaganda coup for the DPRK to hold its own, let alone win a few games.
But a low-level international hockey tournament featuring 99% amateur players? And nothing against South Africa, but that’s not really a high-profile hockey zone by any standard.
So as always, much respect and much WTF to North Korean athletes.