After his team fell to the United States 2-0 in its World Cup opener, North Korea's coach offered up one of the most original sports excuses of all time. Kim Kwang Min said it lost because several of his players were struck by lightning almost a month ago. It was the first anyone had heard of the incident, which Kim claimed took place on June 8 during training in Pyongyang.
North Korea played the U.S. tight in the first half, but the Americans scored twice in the second for the win. Kim said his team's failings in the late minutes of the contest were a clear result of their brush with the bolt.
"The goalkeeper and the four defenders were most affected [by the lightning]," he said after the match. "The physicians said the players were not capable of participating in the tournament. … The fact that they played could be called abnormal, the result of very strong will."
Very strong will, indeed. Or perhaps Kim just has a very strong imagination?
I suppose it's possible he was telling the truth. Lightning has disrupted many a sporting event -- just ask golfer Lee Trevino, who was struck by lightning at the Western Open in 1975, or the bishop from "Caddyshack," who saw his best round ever cut short by a bolt. But like the boy who cried wolf, North Korea's penchant for absurd athletic excuses makes each outlandish story a little harder to believe.
Consider this: In 2009, when the men's soccer team fell to South Korea in a World Cup qualifier, the North Korean soccer federation claimed that their opponent had poisoned their players. Back home the state news agency of North Korea (KCNA) told of the 1-0 loss with all the drama of a Shakespearean tragedy, blaming South Korean president Lee Myung-bak for the alleged food poisoning and the game's biased officiating.
"The match…turned into a theater of plot-breeding and swindling," read the statement. "It is as clear as noonday that it was a product of the Lee Myung-bak group's moves for confrontation and a deliberate behavior bred by the unsavory forces instigated by it."
While the North Koreans certainly have a knack for telling tall tales about their losses, their creativity and imagination is even greater when it comes to doling out credit for their successes. Just last year before the World Cup in South Africa, men's coach Kim Jong-Hun told ESPN.com that he gets important advice during matches from North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, "using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye." According to the soccer skipper, Dear Leader developed the technology himself.
Of course, Kim Jong-il is no stranger to athletic achievement -- KCNA reported that he made 11 holes-in-one and shot 38 under par in his first round of golf in 2003. Or to invention -- one year later a state media report cited him as the creator of the hamburger, or as he termed it, "double bread with meat."
When you consider Kim Jong-il's 11 aces in one round of golf and the whole inventing-an-invisible-cell-phone thing, I guess a freak lightning strike that causes players to tire only in the second half of a game played nearly a full month later -- well, that doesn't sound so ridiculous after all. Now if we could only check the weather for June 8 in Pyongyang…