On Tuesday, Canadian speed skater Kim Boutin won a bronze medal in the 500-meter short track final. It should have been a happy occasion for Boutin, who was originally in fourth place but was bumped up to third after South Korea’s Choi Min-jeong was disqualified. However, after she received her medal, Boutin faced abuse on social media from Choi's fans.
Choi was set to receive a silver medal, but judges ultimately disqualified her for interfering. As a result, Boutin was able to make her way to the medal stand after all, but some fans believe that Choi was wronged. They subsequently flooded Boutin's Instagram with angry comments and abuse. Some people accused Boutin of cheating and demanded that she retire, while others went so far as to leave death threats in both Korean and English on her photos.
The Korea Herald reported that Choi's fans "became especially angry after the overjoyed Boutin hugging her teammates was broadcast live after she was informed that she had just won bronze." According to the Herald, Boutin's Instagram account received at least 10,000 comments, many of them angry or abusive. Boutin ultimately made her Instagram account private and deleted her most recent post as a result of the comments.
During a daily news conference on Wednesday, International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mark Adams urged everyone to "respect the athletes and their performances," but acknowledged that the IOC could not control comments made on social media. The Canadian Olympic Committee, meanwhile, said in a statement that it was prioritizing "the health, safety, and security of all our team members."
"We are working closely with Speed Skating Canada, our security personnel, and the RCMP," the COC said following the abuse Boutin received.
As Mashable reported, short track speed skating can often be a rough sport, and it is unsurprising that there was so much ambiguity in the 500-meter race. Nonetheless, many of Choi's fans have demanded to know why she was disqualified for interference while Boutin was not. A GIF has gone viral in which Boutin appears to be pushing Choi, even though race officials indicated that only Choi committed interference.
Boutin is not the first foreign skater to face backlash from Korean fans. According to Reuters, Britain's Elise Christie faced similar abuse online during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi after colliding with a South Korean skater. Despite all the abuse that Boutin has faced, however, other Korean social media users defended her, arguing that the referee — and not Boutin — should be criticized.
"Everybody, please, it's the referee who should be insulted," one social media user commented. "The athlete did nothing wrong. As a Korean, I am very sad that some people would have left these messages."
According to her bio on the Canadian Olympic team's official website, Boutin started skating when she was just 6. Now 23, she's won multiple world championship and World Cup medals throughout her career. Wednesday, however, marked Boutin's Olympic debut — an occasion that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commemorated with a tweet.
Although Boutin's bronze medal finish may have been marred by the messages she has received online, Reuters reported that South Korea has won more medals in short track speed skating — the host country's favorite winter sport — than in all other winter sports combined, so it was a big deal for Choi to be disqualified.
Boutin has also made her Twitter account private since receiving abusive comments, but she still has events to look forward to at the Winter Olympics. According to her profile on the PyeongChang 2018 website, Boutin will compete in the 3,000-meter relay final on Tuesday.