For the first time since war, this gold belongs to Korea
JAKARTA, Indonesia — There was no dividing them. The folk song Arirang played and the “unification” flag was raised to celebrate the first gold medal by a combined Koreas team at a major multi-sport event.
The crew comprising South Koreans and North Koreans won the 500-meter dragon boat final on Sunday at the Asian Games co-host city of Palembang, a day after the paddlers delivered the historic first medal for a combined Koreas team by taking bronze in the 200-meter dragon boat competition.
The gold was awarded to Korea — the name for the joint teams that are entered in rowing, canoeing and women’s basketball — rather than being added to the tally of either North or South Korea.
The celebrations started as soon as the dragon-headed boat with its 10 paddlers, its drummer and its sweep crossed the line.
Koreans hugged on the boat and on the banks along the course.
South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted Kim Kwang Chol, a North Korean coach, as saying he “felt the strength of a unified nation when we came together, dedicated our minds to a single purpose, and paddled the boat forward.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in posted praise on social media saying he was “very proud” of the team and that “young athletes who were pouring sweat training at Han River (South Korea) and young athletes who were dreaming about a gold medal while training at Taedong River (North Korea) came together to give joy to the entire Korean Peninsula.”
The Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, have fielded 60 athletes in combined teams in the three sports along with larger contingents for their respective national squads.
Athletes from both countries paraded into the opening ceremony together last weekend behind the “unification” flag, which features the outline of the peninsula in blue on a white background. It took a week to reap the medals.
Kim, the North Korean coach, said he wasn’t sure when he took his paddlers to South Korea for practice last month that they’d have enough time to prepare.
“But I noticed that the North and South Korean athletes’ fighting spirit was so high after watching them train,” Kim was quoted as saying by Yonhap. “As I saw our boat going forward with the athletes’ combined effort and strength, I felt the united power of Korea.”
There could be more gold for the Koreas, too, with the combined women’s basketball team reaching the semifinals.
South and North Korea have entered joint teams in previous international events, starting with the 1991 table tennis world championships, and more recently at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The women’s Olympic ice hockey team gained huge support despite losing all of its games, and inspired more cooperation.
The basketball team, featuring nine South Koreans and three players from the North, next plays Taiwan.
North Korea produced a sister act when Olympic champion Rim Jong Sim won the 75-kilogram weightlifting division a day after her younger sibling Rim Un Sim won the 69-kilogram class.