02/20/2018, 14.35

Defeated on ice, but 'first' in history, joint Korean hockey team players hug

After losing to Sweden in their last match, the Korean team ends up in seventh place. Players burst into tears at their imminent separation. "Politicians made that executive decision [to have a joint team]. Our players and staff are the ones that made it work,” said the team’s proud Canadian coach. One South Korean athlete hopes the country is proud of them. "It was bigger than hockey."

Gangenung (AsiaNews/Agencies) – When the referee blew the final whistle in last match, the members of Korea’s joint women’s hockey team burst into tears.

The adventure of the first joint Korean team in the history of the Olympics came to a close today, when it was defeated by Sweden 6-1 at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung.

As the game ended, North Korean player Hwang Chung-gum rushed to South Korean Choi Ji-yeon, and gave her a big hug.

The team members then formed a circle at the middle of the arena and shouted, "Team Korea," announcing the end of the joint women's hockey team. In the arena, spectators waved unification flags shouting "We are one!"

The athletes shed tears not only because of their seventh place – losing all five matches – but also because of the imminent break-up of the unexpected team, made up of 12 players from North Korea and 23 from South Korea.

Despite the limited opportunities to meet off the ice, the young women became close, as they say themselves and as confirmed by their coach, Canadian Sarah Murray, who said that she "was just so proud of them”.

"Politicians,” Murray noted, “made that executive decision [to have the joint team, but] Our players and staff are the ones that made it work.” She added she hopes to continue to help the North Korean players.

The joint team was set up on 23 January. In South Korea, the decision raised eyebrows because it was considered unfair to South Korean athletes. Those who expected the team to suffer major defeats were right.

Marissa Brandt, a Korean-born adoptee from the United States, said she had mixed emotions about the game -- unhappy with the loss, but delighted that the team "made history in our own way."

"I hope we presented ourselves well and made our country proud," she said. "It was bigger than hockey."

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