Investigation launched into abuse claims by "Garlic Girls"

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2018 file photo, Kim Eun-jung, of South Korea, throws during their women's curling final in the Gangneung Curling Centre at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018. Five-member women's curling team accused former Korean Curling Federation (KCF) vice-president Kim Kyong-doo of verbal abuse and team coaches of giving unreasonable orders and subjecting their private lives to excessive control. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2018 file photo, Kim Eun-jung, of South Korea, yells during their women's curling final in the Gangneung Curling Centre at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. Five-member women's curling team accused former Korean Curling Federation (KCF) vice-president Kim Kyong-doo of verbal abuse and team coaches of giving unreasonable orders and subjecting their private lives to excessive control. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

SEOUL, South Korea — The darlings of South Korea's Winter Olympics are back in the headlines eight months after their stirring run to a curling silver medal in Pyeongchang.

South Korea's sports ministry on Wednesday announced a joint investigation with the national Olympic committee into allegations by the so-called Garlic Girls of abuse.

The five-member women's curling team that shot to international renown in February and sparked unprecedented national attention for their sport sent a letter to the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee last week to outline their allegations.

The women, from a remote province famous for its garlic, captured hearts in a country that hardly knew curling before and became sought-after models for commercials and inspired countless online memes and catch-phrases.

The attention was so great during the games that their coach took away their cellphones to shield the curlers from any pressure. The Garlic Girls ultimately lost to Sweden in the gold medal match.

In the letter, Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Yeong-ae, Kim Cho-hee and Kim Yeong-mi accused former Korean Curling Federation (KCF) vice-president Kim Kyong-doo of verbal abuse and team coaches of giving unreasonable orders and subjecting their private lives to excessive control.

"The human rights of the athletes are being violated," the athletes, the first Asian team to win a curling silver, wrote. "We've reached a point where it has become unbearable."

The curlers also accused coaches of holding back prize money and trying to sideline captain Kim Eun-jung after learning of her plans to start a family.

The coaches "tried to rule Kim Eun-jung off the team after she got married in July," the letter said. "They separated the skip and the team captain's role to minimize Kim Eun-jung's status on the team. They also tried not to include Kim Eun-jung in team training."

The coaching staff have denied the allegations.

The investigation will begin next week and will include officials from the ministry, the national Olympic committee and the team's home province of North Gyeongsang.

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