PyeongChang – Day 9

Rockville mom watches Shaun White win gold, describes a (too?) close encounter with North Korean cheerleaders


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Rockville resident Penny Skarupa (a Bethesda Magazine advertising account executive) has traveled nearly 7,000 miles to South Korea to see her daughter, Haley, play hockey for Team USA in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Haley Skarupa found out in December that she had made the team and the family made plans to attend the games. Penny Skarupa agreed to provide Bethesda Beat with regular updates on what it’s like to be at the Olympics. We last caught up with her on Monday.

Click the link for some background on Haley, a Wootton High graduate.

Bethesda Beat time: 4:29 p.m. Thursday

PyeongChang time: 6:29 a.m. Friday

Penny’s location: Her hotel room in Gangneung, South Korea

Penny Skarupa and her husband, Tony, watched snowboarder Shaun White win gold Wednesday.

What was the crowd like during the women's hockey game between Team USA and the Olympic Athletes from Russia?

What they do is they seat the parents pretty much together for both teams. So we had the Russians like right next to us. I was basically sitting in back of the Russian cheerleaders. They’re very spirited. Very, very spirited.

What did they do?

There were like four of them, dressed all in red with pom-poms. … When the music plays, they dance in the aisles with their pom-poms.

What were the highlights of watching Haley play that game and the one against Canada?

Everybody was telling me that, I guess, the [NBC] announcer for the Olympics is the play-by-play guy for the Washington Capitals. So apparently, he mentioned Haley quite a bit. I must’ve gotten texts from 10 different people telling me how much he mentioned Haley and how she was from Rockville. My son even sent out a text saying, “This guy loves to say Haley Skarupa.”

Was it tough to see the Team USA lose to the Canadian team?

Well, I mean, Canada is always a very, very tough competitor. They’re excellent. They’re so skilled. … That is the biggest rivalry. The competition is between the United States and Canada, and ironically, a lot of these girls know each other. But the game was packed. I mean, completely sold out. I think there were like 4,000 people at that game.

I heard you visited the beach in South Korea. How was that?

Yeah. It’s also called “coffee beach” because right behind it, there’s like rows of coffee shops. … Something that was really interesting was that while we were there, we saw all this media and all this security. And it was for the North Korean cheerleaders, which, I didn’t realize that was a thing. I haven’t kept up with the fact that these cheerleaders were so popular. … My husband was trying to take a selfie, and I guess he got a little too close, because I think they [the security] nudged him.

Tony Skarupa with the North Korean cheerleaders.

Did they have a ton of security?

Oh yeah, they’ve got a ton of security around them.

Were they all dressed alike?

They were absolutely dressed alike. All in red. Like red sweat suits, and they carried red bags and were wearing little red skull caps. They were wearing almost like matching snowsuits.

Do you have an update on Haley?

She’s just really happy. … I guess one day she went off, they had an off-day, and she went to the mountains because she wanted to go see Mikaela Shiffrin ski, and it ended up getting postponed because it was really windy. But in getting to the venue, she and her teammates were a little confused as to where it was, and so they happened upon this young woman who took like 15 to 20 minutes out of her time to give them directions about where to go. … And it happened to be [gold medal-winning snowboarder] Chloe Kim. … And she was on her way to a competition! She was nice as could be, and then afterwards, I guess someone said that it was Chloe Kim. But they didn’t realize it at the time. And [Hilary’s] teammate, Hilary Knight, I guess tweeted out, “Thanks for the directions, Chloe Kim.”

We also heard you were there when snowboarder Shaun White won gold.

That was amazing. That was probably one of the highlights. We weren’t close, but we had a really good view. … Shaun White was just amazing. He was so great.

What else have you seen lately?

Well, we went to the Czech house yesterday. … It was very hospitable. You didn’t have to have a special pass to go in. Like at the Proctor & Gamble house, you have to have a special pass and be scanned in and scanned out, but at the Czech house, anyone could come in. You had to pay, but you get a decent meal. Like we got goulash and sausage and there were four different kinds of Czech beer. … We want to go to the Holland House, otherwise known as the Heineken House.

Are the houses all in the same place or scattered all over?

They’re scattered all over. The Czech one was right near the Olympic Village. I finally saw the village, where the girls were staying. I couldn’t go in, but I got a feel for where they are.

What did you notice?

There are a lot of apartments, but then there are these large, large tents, almost like event tents, and I think that’s where they have their meetings. … I know there’s a McDonald’s in there, because that’s where Haley says they’ve been getting their coffee. And it looks pretty heavily guarded.

It sounds like you’re getting a constant stream of text messages from back home.

It’s constant. I wake up, and people are sending me links and pictures from the television and telling me … what they’re saying. Some family members of Haley’s teammates have been arriving, and there’s one extended family member from Virginia, and she said that Haley has been all over the news. And in Boston, there was this great photo of the players from the women’s team, so one of my friends in Boston took a picture of that photo in The Boston Globe. … There’s a geographical restriction, so all I’m getting video-wise is what people can send me via text. … Everyone has been just amazing, telling me what they’re saying and sending me photos from the television. ... [Haley’s team] tweeted at The Ellen [DeGeneres] Show when they took a picture of themselves before the opening ceremonies. … And Ellen tweeted back to them.

And I’m sure a lot of people are star-struck meeting Haley and her teammates.

All of these girls are very unassuming. They’re in awe of people more than people are in awe of them. They’re all wide-eyed and everything and thinking, “People are taking my picture?” It’s really cool to see it. And a group of people have wanted to take our picture, too, and it’s like … who are we?

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