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Combined Korean hockey team loses to Swiss in Olympic debut

Combined Korean hockey team loses to Swiss in Olympic debut

February 11th, 2018 by Associated Press in Sports Pro

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The moment was too important to be overshadowed by a loss.

No matter the final score.

The Korean women's hockey team, the first in Olympic history to combine players from North and South, was routed 8-0 by Switzerland on Saturday night in its debut game, outshot 52-8 in a matchup that could have been far worse if not for the goaltending of Shin So Jung. The poor showing didn't stop the sellout crowd from cheering throughout much of the game, the chants led often by North Korea's famous cheering group, and it didn't lessen the import of the event.

"I think a unified one is stronger than two divided ones If North and South Korea will send unified teams on sports and all other sectors, we'll have good results," North Korean player Jong Su Hyon said.

Fans unfurled a large banner reading "We are one" after the game and then IOC president Thomas Bach and South Korean president Moon Jae-in joined the powerful sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, for photos with the team.

The dignitaries walked to the Korean bench, taking turns talking to players still standing on the ice. After a photo together, each of the Koreans shook hands with the three men while Kim Jong Un's sister watched.

It was a raucous and historic night mixing sports and politics on an international stage for a second straight night in this remote region of South Korea. The game came just 24 hours after an extraordinary opening ceremony filled with signs of unity between the two rivals. And like the ceremony, North and South leaders spent long moments in close proximity.

The two North Koreans are on a landmark visit to the South amid a flurry of abrupt reconciliation steps, and both attended the opening ceremony before having a luncheon with Moon at Moon's presidential palace earlier Saturday. The North Koreans have invited Moon to visit Pyongyang in what would be the third inter-Korean summit talks since their 1945 division.

Fans roared every time a Korean got the puck on her stick, and Han Soojin nearly put the team on the board with a shot from the left circle that hit the crossbar early in the first period. North Korean Jong Su Hyon had one of Korea's three shots in the opening period.

Still, the Koreans were playing the world's sixth-ranked team. Alina Muller had a hat trick for Switzerland by the end of the first period and added a fourth early in the second. Coach Sarah Murray played three North Korean forwards as required in the deal that created the team; she had to scratch three of her South Korean players.

"Obviously, it is tough to lose. Nobody likes losing, especially me I think they were nervous," Murray said. "Coming on first such a bid crowd and the first game on Olympic stage. I think in the first period we were nervous and it was hard to come back from that."

South Korean player Ko Hyein said: "We had a tight game at first in the first period, but our mental toughness wasn't really good so we lost our posture after suffering the first goal. But we'll make up for that weak point for the next game."

Hundreds of spectators lined the streets outside Kwandong Hockey Center before the game, chanting and waving small "unification flags" amid gusting, chilly winds. One man held up a sign that read, "The peace of all mankind."

"We have to be unified (with North Korea). Politicians must let the Korean people meet and get together continuously," said Park Sung-uk, a 48-year-old office worker who attended the game with his family. "I just want the unified team to do well in these Olympics."

Fielding the joint hockey team was one of the key agreements reached after several rounds of talks on how to cooperate during the Olympics, which run through Feb. 25. Athletes from North and South paraded together during Friday night's ceremony in the same white parkas, marching under a single "unification flag" depicting an undivided peninsula. It was their first joint march since 2007.