Saturday, September 30, 2023
The women's basketball teams from North and South Korea squared off against one another in Hangzhou on Friday, five years after competing as a single team at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018.
Ro Suk Yong, Kim Hye Yon, and Jang Mi Gyong were three of the North Korean players who helped the 12-member team led by South Korean Lee Moon-Kyoo in 2018.
They fell to China 71-65 in the championship game, earning a silver medal.
However, divided again, South Korea prevailed 81-62 against North Korea at China's Asian Games, as a number of the roster returned, split on opposing sides for the Group C match at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium.
Ro captained North Korea and guard Kim started on the bench, while South Korea had forward Kang Lee Seul, guard Park Ji Hyun and centre Park Ji Su among the 2018 alumni, Reuters reported.
Diplomatic tension between South and North Korea at the Games heightened due to North Korean athletes refusing to join South Korea for a group photo of medal winners.
South Korea's coach warned players not to react aggressively in physical situations, as North Korea's 6ft-8 Pak Ji Na caused some bruising hits at her opponents.
"We also predicted this tense game in the locker room," Jung told reporters. "I reminded our players ... definitely there will be some inevitable physical contact.
"However, we shall not overreact. And this shall not affect the competition, we will control ourselves. We were fully prepared for it. If they are strong, we will be stronger."
North Korea's cheer squad, consisting of a few dozen people in white T-shirts and baseball caps, chanted and cheered loudly when South Korea was off target. However, they demonstrated the country's strong local support for China, a long-standing ally of North Korea.
South Korea trailed in the first quarter but big centre Park took command to drive them to a 33-25 lead at halftime and extend the lead to 20 points after the third quarter.
Unified Korean teams have participated in several international events, including the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the Jakarta Asian Games.
However, North Korea has been unable to compete in major multi-sport events due to COVID-19 and Olympic suspension.
North Korea's basketball coach Jong Song Sim couldn't confirm if the team would be open to another tie-up in the future, while a North Korean official, who was an assistant coach of the unified team in 2018, stated the question was irrelevant.
A South Korean reporter who asked whether the North Korean team had enjoyed the local food and the support of local crowds at the Games was upbraided by the same official, who took exception that the reporter had not referred to the nation as "DPRK" (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) as per Asian Games protocol.
"You should apologise," the official snapped at the reporter, the question left unanswered.
South Korea's Park said she was happy to see her former North Korean teammates five years on from Jakarta but suggested the emotion of the moment may have affected her.
"I actually didn't give my best performance," she told reporters. "After five years, I finally see my opponent, I thought I would be pretty happy but I didn’t get any chance to talk to them."
North Korea recently enshrined its status as a nuclear power in its constitution, with leader Kim Jong Un calling for more modern atomic weapons to counter the threat from the United States, state media reported on Thursday, September 28.
Despite international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests this year, ignoring warnings from the US, South Korea and their allies.