By Kim Young-jin
North Korea is providing its citizens with wide coverage of the London Olympics, officials said Thursday, as its athletes continue to attribute success to their new leader.
According to one North Korean official, the country’s impressive showing _ five medals so far including four golds _ has caused a sensation among the populace that comes amid reports of devastation caused by heavy rains.
"People back home are excited about our athletes' great performances," said Ri Kwang-chol, head of the press delegation from the North's broadcasting committee. Officials added that coverage expanded from 15 minutes during the evening news after judoka An
Kum-ae’s gold medal performance sparked intense interest. "I heard there are five hours of daily TV broadcasting of the Olympics," Ri said.
Ri recently met with Kim In-kyu, president of South Korean public broadcaster KBS. Kim is also the head of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), a nongovernmental organization, and headed a delegation that agreed to help the North broadcast the Games.
The Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang paper in Japan, said the North’s sports ministry was inundated with phone calls after citizens caught wind of the athletes’ success.
The competitors have been quick to credit leader Kim Jong-un for their performances.
"Even though it was a very close competition, I gained strength to give joy to our supreme leader," weightlifter Rim Jong-sim said after winning the women's 69-kilogram class.
Any festive atmosphere comes amid rising international concern over damage in the impoverished state caused by heavy rains.
The Red Cross said Thursday it had allocated some $308,000 for victims of North Korea's floods and storms, after state media reported 119 deaths and major crop damage in the food-scarce nation.
Pyongyang has reported that 109 people have died from floods and landslides caused by torrential rains earlier this month. Tens of thousands have been left homeless, and farmland was washed away.
Analysts say the North, like other small countries, sees success on the international sporting stage as good for their image abroad. It is also likely to spin such victories to demonstrate the superiority of its system.
The events are shown on tape delay as broadcasting usually takes place in the morning and evenings.