Stockholm (AFP) – Having taken another step towards the sporting rapprochement of North and South Korea, the unified Korean women’s table tennis team was soundly beaten by Japan at the world championships in Sweden on Friday.
The two Koreas on Thursday opted against playing each other, deciding instead to field a joint women’s team for the semi-finals.
But when the action resumed in Halmstad on Friday, South Korean player Jeon Jihee lost in three sets, 11-2, 11-8, 11-9, to Japan’s Mima Ito in the first match.
Kim Song I, of North Korea, fared better in the second match but lost 11-4, 6-11, 11-8, 11-13, 16-14 to Japan’s strongest player, Kasumi Ishikawa.
In the final match, Japan’s Miu Hirano dispensed with South Korea’s Yang Haeun 11-4, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6.
“Playing against the combined team, (they) were very strong but I really wanted to give the best… we came here to win the gold medal and that’s what we’re going to do,” Hirano said.
Despite the defeat, the combined Korean team were all smiles as they were applauded off court by the spectators and the respective ambassadors of the two countries.
The united team is the latest sporting proof of the thaw in relations between the two rival Koreas that began at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February when they marched together at the opening ceremony and fielded a joint women’s hockey team.
Last week diplomatic rapprochement broke historic ground when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s visited the south for a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
North and South Korea formed a joint table tennis team once before, at the world championships in Chiba, Japan, in 1991, when they won the women’s team title.