The Korean women’s hockey team lost 4-1 in its latest match against Japan, but that single goal was important: it’s the first they’ve scored so far all Olympics.
The team, made up of North and South Korean players, has been struggling so far. They have the worst record in the tournament, with three losses, and in those three games, they’ve only scored once.
The goal came courtesy of two Americans. Randi Heesoo Griffin scored at 9:31 of the second period on the Koreans’ 33rd shot of the Olympics in their third game. She grew up
in Cary, North Carolina, and her mother is from South Korea.
Griffin was set up for the goal by Marissa Brandt, who now lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota and who is playing for the country where she was born. Her birth name is Park Yoonjung, the name she uses on the back of her Korean team jersey.
Griffin’s goal led to an eruption from fans filling Kwandong Hockey Center. After the game, fans tossed stuffed animals onto the ice in celebration.
Although the idea of a combined Korean team drew considerable controversy when it was first announced, it has drawn considerable interest at the Olympics.
“I’m so proud of my daughter,” said Woo hee-jun, mother of South Korean substitute goalie Han Dohee.
“If Dohee plays, I would be happy to see that, but I still come to the stadium to root for the joint team because she’s part of it.”
As Woo spoke near the Kwandong Hockey Center ahead of the Koreas’ match against Sweden on Monday night, dozens of supporters chanted “We are one” and waved a blue and white “unification flag” that North and South Korean hockey players put on their uniforms instead of their national flags. Hundreds of others waited in lines to enter the stadium – a highly unusual scene in a country without a professional women’s hockey team.
The team’s two matches against Switzerland and Sweden both ended in crushing 8-0 defeats. But world media cared more about the historic significance of the games, rather than scores.
Woo said she was initially quite frustrated at the joint team plans. The 12 North Korean hockey players include a goalie – her daughter’s position. “It didn’t make sense,” she said. “But it was something the government was pushing to do, and we are weak so that we had no other options (other than) to follow its decision.”
Heo Saeng-gum, mother of South Korean defender Kim Selin, who appeared in both of the preliminary round matches, said she feels very sorry for the South Korean players who could lose playing time.
Nevertheless, Heo considers her daughter an “honour of our family.” Her husband, Kim Woo Il, said he’s proud of his daughter for “marking a chapter in the history” of inter-Korean relations and paving the way for a chance to promote hockey in South Korea.
Woo said she’s a bit relieved after her daughter asked her not to worry too much because she and the North Korean goalie, Ri Pom, could learn from each other. Han recently told reporters that North and South Korean players “are talking to each other a lot … and we feel thankful for North Korean players because all of them are training hard.”
Every move by North and South Korean players was in the news. They held birthday parties for two North Korean athletes, took a selfie together, created a dictionary to overcome a linguistic divide between the Koreas and visited an east coast beach together to enjoy winter breezes and sodas.
On Monday night, when South Korean forward Choi Jiyeon spoke to reporters that she’s grown close to two North Korean players, Hwang Chung Gum and Kim Hyang Mi, she called them “eonni,” a Korean word used when a woman refers to an elder sister or friend.
“The eonnis approached and talked to me first, and they cared for me,” Choi said.
WATCH: The joint Korean women’s ice hockey team had its first game, a friendly match against Sweden ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics while outside the venue protesters condemned the North Korean regime.
After the Olympics, Korean players will be separated, probably for good, because the two Koreas bar their citizens from visiting each other or exchanging phone calls, letters and emails.
“The other day,” Woo said, “Dohee told me she’ll likely cry because there are no ways to stay in touch with North Korean players once they leave here.”