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PyeongChang2018 – Joint Korean Team proves more difficult than expected says Head Coach Sarah Murray


Every time Switzerland scored a goal against Korea’s unified women’s hockey team on Saturday night in Gangneung, the 100-plus member North Korean cheerleading squad, women all dressed in red jackets and white winter hats, began to chant in Korean. “Cheer up!” they told the Korean team, pointing a unified Korean flag at the players. “Cheer up!” For Korean hockey fans, these encouraging words became a bit too familiar at the Kwandong Hockey Centre during the home team’s 8-0 loss to Switzerland at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For the first time in Olympic history, North Korea and South Korea competed as one. Over the last few days the world has witnessed unprecedented acts of cooperation, symbolic or otherwise, between South Korea and its nuclear-armed neighbor to the North. The two countries marched under a united Korean flag at Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremonies in PyeongChang.


For some South Korean hockey players, however, displays of cooperation come with a cost. A dozen North Korean players were added to the team in January — awfully late in the game.


“I didn’t ever anticipate this happening,” says Sarah Murray, the team’s Canadian coach. “It was out of our control.”


Murray said that she heard rumors floating around in July that the two Koreas would unify. Those rumors soon dissipated. “Right now,” says Murray. “I’m really wishing it would have happened in July. We would have had a full season to work with them.”


The IOC gave the Korean team license expand its roster from 23 to 35 players. At the Olympics, 22 players can suit up for games; as part of the agreement, Murray would have to suit up at least three North Korean players for each game, as she did on Saturday. The deal, which was announced right after South Korea finalized its roster, takes ice time away from South Koreans who earned their way onto the team.


“It’s really tough,” says Murray. “You have to tell the these players, ‘oh, you’re going to the Olympics. And then you have to tell them oh, you might not play in the Olympics.’”

Murray fretted that the new North Korean players would disrupt locker room relationships. But this fear has been unfounded. “The chemistry on the team is better than I ever could have predicted,” she says. “They hang out together, they eat meals together. I’ll walk into the locker room and they’re all laughing together. You can’t tell who’s from the North and who’s from the South. They’re just girls playing hockey.”

Incorporating the North Koreans on the ice, however, has proven more difficult.



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