SEOUL – Female athletes from the inter-Korean ice hockey team that competed in the PyeongChang Olympics this year bid an emotional farewell to each other on Monday before the North’s players returned home.
The 12 North Korean players and their 23 South Korean teammates embraced, many of them in tears, in the Olympic village in Gangneung city, before the northern contingent got on the bus that would take them back to North Korea.
“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,” South Korean player Choi Ji-Yeon told Yonhap news agency.
“If 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,” said the coach of the joint team, Sarah Murray.
Although the team lost all five matches and managed to score only two goals, the unified team has been a major achievement of the historic rapprochement between the two Koreas recently within the framework of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
This was the first time the two Koreas – who have been technically at war for more than 65 years – had competed together in an Olympic tournament and the first time in which both countries participated as a joint team since 1991.
However, the North’s decision to compete jointly with the South was criticized in South Korea as the South’s players had to cede playing time to the North Koreans as the latter did not qualify for PyeongChang.
The President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Rene Phasel, has said that he is prepared to discuss the possibility of a female inter-Korean team competing again in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics if one of the two Koreas qualified for the tournament.