NORTH and South Korean women’s ice hockey players have bid an emotional farewell after competing as a unified team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
On the ice, the unified Korean team accomplished very little in the way of results, losing all five games they played and scoring just twice. Off the ice, they were hailed as a symbol of the bonding power of sport while one International Olympic Committee (IOC) member suggested the team should be put forward for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Tears flowed when it came time to say goodbye at Gangneung Olympic Village on Monday, reported South Korea’s news agency Yonhap.
“It just shows what we did was really special,” said Sarah Murray, the unified team’s Canadian coach. “We can feel this way about the players and we’ve only been together for three weeks. It says something about our team. It’s really special.”
South Korea’s Randi Heesoo Griffin described her historic goal, the first by the unified Korean team, as “pretty crappy” that was more luck than design.
Nonetheless, it was celebrated on both sides of the demilitarised zone, from Seoul to Pyongyang, as a symbol of what two countries, still technically at war, can accomplish by working together.
The puck that dribbled between Japan goaltender Akane Konishi’s pads was collected and will now find a home in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Choi Ji-yeon of South Korea prepared handwritten letters for her North Korean teammates, printing out mobile phone photos she had taken with them as souvenirs. “I told them I would miss them so much because we became very close over the past couple of weeks. I hope to see them again, but I know it’s going to be difficult,” she said as quoted by Yonhap.
In a last-minute attempt to re-engage with the North and clear the way for talks over Pyongyang’s weapons program, the South suggested just a week before the Pyeongchang Olympics were to open that they form a combined side.
The team generated tremendous interest and were one of the Olympics’ major storylines but as the Games closed on Sunday it was unclear if it was something the world would see again at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
”We are thinking about this, whether we should continue. I say, ‘Why not?’” said Rene Fasel, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
“I think that would be good to do it in 2022, to go to the Beijing Olympics, to keep the North and South Korean team. It is a message of peace and we hope to continue that. We will try.”
Additional reporting from Reuters.