I was so afraid of losing because I put so much effort into winning at the Asian Games,” said Om Yun Chol, North Korea’s star lifter, after his record-breaking effort at the Incheon Asian Games in South Korea two years ago. He should have been. Not just because he was the Olympic champion in London 2012 in the 56kg category. Not just because he was probably the only lifter who has lifted more than three times his bodyweight on multiple occasions. Just because he has to go back to his “respected marshal” Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, who has been taking a keen interest in sporting activities in the country, especially weightlifting. After London 2012, Om was gifted a luxury apartment and all his needs were taken care of.
The rest of their countrymen may be staring at malnutrition and food shortage, but sportsmen enjoy the best of that grim world. Kim makes sure of that, and the lifters are in awe of him. “I have a question for journalists here,” Om said, when asked about the secret of his success, at Incheon. “Have you ever heard that an egg can break a stone? The respected marshal has told us that if we add an idea to an egg, we can break a stone with the egg.” Speaking through an interpreter, his words echoed the myriad struggles of his countrymen: “Whenever our people face difficulty, we come together and make it through the rough times.”
In London, the diminutive (5’0”) 25-year-old was put in the B pool where people with the least chances were grouped. Four years down the line, Om starts as the hot favourite, and Kim would be expecting nothing less than a gold.