Gangneung (South Korea) (AFP) – A unified Korean team lost a grudge match 4-1 to Japan for their third straight Olympics defeat in front of a partisan crowd that included the North Korean cheerleaders and a Kim Jong Un lookalike.
The home fans chanted “We are one” even as the first joint Korean team to appear at an Olympic Games were on the end of another heavy defeat.
At least they had a goal to cheer — scored by Randi Griffin, one of three Americans in the squad with Korean parentage.
Korea lost 8-0 to both Switzerland and Sweden and the Japan clash had extra spice for Koreans in the North and South who blame Japan for colonising the now-divided peninsula from 1910-1945.
“I came to tonight’s game because I wanted to support our team when they play against Japan,” said Kim Yoon-hye, a 28-year-old teacher from Seoul.
Park Geum-taek, 44, from Olympic host city Pyeongchang, added: “Given the history of our countries, I feel like we must win all sporting games against Japan.”
The Koreans packed into the 6,000-seat Kwandong Hockey Centre let out a deafening roar and cheered to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” even as the hosts gave up two goals only four minutes into the game.
The decibels peaked when Griffin pulled one back halfway through the second period — prompting the 200-plus North Korean cheerleaders in the crowd to jump out of their seats.
Away from the ice, a double of North Korean leader Kim was being hauled off by police after dancing provocatively in front of the North Korean support.
Back on it, the Korea team — heavy with symbolism but low on quality — were getting soundly beaten again.
Griffin said playing for a unified Korea — part of a landmark deal between South and North Korea after months of tensions — felt strangely normal.
“It doesn’t feel weird. This is my team and I scored a goal for my team. And I would also say that I’m definitely not a hero… I got lucky,” she said.
The side’s American coach Sarah Murray said that for the Korean team, the game was not political.
“We just saw ourselves as one team competing against our biggest rival. We talked to the players about it before the game, not of the history of Korea and Japan, but whoever wins this game is the best team in Asia.”
The Koreans cannot win an Olympic medal and have one more match to come, on Sunday, on what promises to be another emotional occasion.