International Ice Hockey Federation

Unity and harmony

Unity and harmony

Korean women's hockey team bridges border

Published 15.08.2018 16:15 GMT+11 | Author Andy Potts
Unity and harmony
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 9: Hwang Chung Gum, Korean hockey player and Won Run-jung, bobsleigh pilot carry the Korean Unification Flag for the Opening Ceremoniesof the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Friday's spectacular opening ceremony set the scene for a festival of sport in PyeongChang - and the United Korean women's ice hockey team led the way.

On a night dedicated to peace and harmony, Korea's historic Women's Ice Hockey team played a key role at the Olympic Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang.

With a roster that brings together the two Korean states, the team's symbolic importance underpinned the spectacular start to proceedings. First, Chung Gum Hwang, a 22-year-old forward from the North Korean Taesongsan club, joined Korean bobsledder Yunjong Won beneath the symbolic banner of a Unified Korea. The pair led the largest-ever Winter Olympic team of Korean athletes – 144 from the South, 22 from the North – as the twin delegations marched together to conclude the parade of the 92 nations competing at the 2018 Games.

Then, at the culmination of the spectacular event, two more players from the women's hockey team carried the Olympic Torch on the final steps of its journey. Team captain Jongah Park of South Korea was joined by Su-Hyon Jong, the North's leading scorer in last season's World Championship action, to bring the torch to the foot of the cauldron and hand it to figure-skating legend Yuna Kim.

The unified delegations drew a predictably rapturous reception from the crowd, upstaging even the bare-chested Tongan flag-bearer Pita Taufatofua, Taekwondo fighter turned cross-country skier, who shrugged off bitterly cold conditions in PyeongChang to warm the hearts of everyone in the arena by reprising the topless march last seen in the warmer climes of Rio at the Summer Olympics two years ago. “This is a manafau, a traditional dance skirt," Taufatofua said. “I won’t freeze. I am from Tonga. We sailed across the Pacific. This is nothing.”

Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, captured the spirit of the moment in his speech. “This is how we show the unique power of sport to unite people,” he said. “An example of this unifying power is the joint march of the two teams of the Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea … Now in PyeongChang the athletes of ROK and DPRK, by marching together, sent a powerful message of peace to the world.”

Hee-Beom Lee, president of PyeongChang's organising committee, expressed similar sentiments. "The PyeongChang Games, I am confident, will provide a light of hope for all global citizens yearning for peace on this planet," he said.

That message of peace and unity will continue even as the competitive action gets underway. Hwang and her team-mates will form a historic unified Korean squad in the women’s hockey tournament – something never seen before at Olympic Games. Twelve North Korean hockey players were added to the South Korean roster of 23 players for the Games in a gesture that will hopefully promote detente and harmony between Pyongyang and Seoul. While the Korean ladies will still be limited to a 22-strong game-day roster, at least three North Korean players will dress for each game according to the agreement between the two countries. Hwang was one of four players from the DPRK to play in the team’s first warm-up action last Sunday, when it lost 3-1 to Sweden.

Peace and harmony were also the underlying themes of a powerful opening ceremony that drew on the Korean peninsula’s turbulent history to promote a message of understanding. Telling the story of five children travelling through time in search of a world of peace, the show used local symbolism to reflect its universal theme. The Arirang, a much-loved folksong often described as the unofficial national anthem of both countries, was the soundtrack to the centrepiece of the show. The serene strains of this tale of divided lovers rang out, powerfully performed by 70-year-old singer Man-gil Kim and rising above the tempest of history evoked by the light show in the arena.

Then, following the lighting of the Olympic Flame, the mythical Dokkaebi – goblin-like pranksters first recorded in the Silla-era tale told by the Arirang – spread that light throughout the crowd at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. It wasn’t just ancient folklore – the fans were also quick to roar their approval when they recognised ‘Gangnam Style’ among a K Pop-heavy soundtrack during the parade of athletes.


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