INCHEON, South Korea – North Korea is making a statement on the international sports stage — a fashion statement.
Standing tall in the land of K-pop and Gangnam style, the North's top athletes have been looking decidedly sharper than usual at the Asian Games, an Olympic-style regional games hosted by rival South Korea, with pink candy-striped ties, azure slacks and, of course, the accessory that pulls every good North Korean ensemble together, those bright red Kim lapel badges.
All of it, apparently, with a made-in-the-DPRK label.
And it's not just the athletes, either.
Dressed in the same national uniforms as their athletes and coaches, North Korea's media contingent is hands down the best-dressed group of reporters at the Games. Though that probably isn't saying much.
With teams from 45 countries ready to roll after the games officially open Friday, the North's sportswear has already created something of a buzz in Incheon.
According to a major Chinese media outlet, The China Daily, their uniforms were domestically designed and produced, instead of procured from abroad as had been the practice in the past, a sign it says reflects the country's desire to show off its indigenous textile industry.
"In a way, it shows that Pyongyang is going to greater lengths to revive its light industries such as clothing manufacturing to meet its policy of reviving the national economy and bringing the country back to 'normal,'" the newspaper opined in a piece that said the North's fashions are one of the "highlights" of the event.
For sure, North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un — whose penchant for basketball is well-known — is hoping the 230-member delegation at Incheon will make a big splash.
Since taking power after the death of his father in late 2011, Kim has made building up sports one of his top priorities.
Some 150 athletes from the North — whose official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — will compete in 14 of 36 sports. The team features some very strong contenders, including three Olympic weightlifting champions, two very strong judo contenders and a pair of twins — Kim Hye Gyong and Kim Mi Gyong — who could battle for the women's marathon championship.
In that race, too, they might have a secret weapon.
According the North's state-run media, the Athletic Apparatus Institute of the North's Sports Science Academy has developed a new type of marathon shoes, which weigh a mere 139 grams and have soles made of elastic materials with outer rims of "flexible and ventilative materials."
"The new shoes, with different styles, colors and patterns, have been proven to be of help in raising marathoners' capacity for locomotion and bettering their athletic records," the Korean Central News Agency reported before the games began.
If all else fails, there's always the mushroom drink.
Developed by the Microbiological Research Institute of the State Academy of Sciences, the drink — made of cultivated mushroom fungus — was unveiled recently and promoted as a quick pick-me-up for athletes.
"This natural drink is very effective in enhancing physical ability of sportspersons and recovering from their fatigues," the state-media claims.
No word yet on whether it will cause doping issues.