Korean fans raise the roof on historic day
History was made at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Saturday 10 February as the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team took to the ice for their opening preliminary match against Switzerland. It was the first time the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had come together to field a team at the Winter Games.
The occasion caught the imagination of the fans, who turned up in numbers to fill the 6,000-capacity Kwandong Hockey Centre, cheering the Korea team on from start to finish in a match that ended in an 8-0 win for the Swiss, ranked sixth in the world and the bronze medallists at Sochi 2014.
As much as they would have liked to have seen the recently assembled team get on the scoresheet, the result mattered little to the home supporters, who were only too happy to see the two neighbouring countries link arms and compete as one on the ice.
United in friendship
Among the dignitaries in the stands for this very special occasion were IOC President Thomas Bach; Moon Jae-in, the President of the Republic of Korea; Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong Un; and Kim Yong Nam, the titular head of state of the PRK. Earlier in the day, Moon was invited by the PRK delegation for talks in Pyongyang, paving the way for the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than a decade.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, thanks in no small part the tireless singing and choreographed moves of a troupe of DPRK cheerleaders, dressed in matching red tracksuits. Elsewhere, fans showed their enthusiastic support for the Korea team by waving unification flags, banners and scarves and cheering loudly whenever the Swiss goal came under threat.
The Korea team, which featured three DPRK players (Kim Un Hyang, Jong Su Hyon and Hwang Chung Gum), almost took an early lead when forward Han Soo-jin flicked a shot against the crossbar at the end of a breakaway move.
Peace wins the day
Though Alina Muller fired the Swiss into a commanding lead with four quick goals and Phoebe Staenz and Lara Stalder later added two apiece, it did little to lessen noise levels or dampen the enthusiasm of the fans, among them Jang Sung-ho, who had come to watch the game with his family. “I feel really good and touched,” he said. “I feel fortunate to see a historic game. This will contribute to inter-Korean peace.”
Echoing that widely held view was 44-year-old office worker Oh Eun Seok, who said: “It is a historic game. This small step will pave the way for inter-Korean peace.”
After the game, Moon and the two Kims went down to the ice to meet and speak with the Korea team, while the cheerleaders continued to sing in the stands. They then posed for a team photo with the players, who wore specially made white jerseys bearing an image of a united Korean peninsula emblazoned in pale blue.