ABC News aired a report a few days back suggesting that Olympic athletes from North Korea who fail to bring home a medal may actually be sentenced to time at hard labor.
North Korean athletes who have defected, suggest the success of the country's small contingent of athletes at the games may be the result of a policy of training them from a very young age at specialized schools, backed up by rewards like cars and refrigerators for winners and the threat of labor camps for losers.
North Korea takes its Olympic athletes very seriously. The Communist Party's Sports Committee rears what it considers to be its most promising prospects practically from birth, assigning them to special schools where all their basic needs are met.
For those athletes who bring home medals, life can become pretty rewarding in this otherwise impoverished nation.
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."
For those who don't bring home the prizes, not so much:
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.