Seoul: A joint table tennis team from the two Koreas won the final in mixed doubles at the Korea Open on Saturday, claiming the first gold in the latest installment of sporting diplomacy on the peninsula.
Jang Woo-jin, a male player from the South, and Cha Hyo Sim, a female player from the North, defeated China 3-1 at the mixed doubles final at the international tournament held in the South's city of Daejeon. It was the first gold medal won by an inter-Korea sports team in nearly three decades after a women's joint table tennis team scored a shock victory over reigning champion China in the world championship in Japan in 1991.
The Chinese pair of Wang Chuqin and Sun Yinsha won the first set 11-5 before the Korean team thrashed them 11-3, 11-4 and 11-8 in consecutive sets as some South Korean fans chanted in unison "We are one!"
"I really wanted to win this game and the cheers from the crowd gave me goosebumps," Jang told reporters after the game. "I saw Hyo Sim crying during the ceremony and it broke my heart that we have to say goodbye soon," he said.
All civilian communication between the two countries " which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty " is banned. But North Korea's decision to participate in the Winter Olympics in the South last February triggered an ongoing rapprochement between the two nations.
Athletes from the two Koreas marched together behind a unification flag at the Games' opening ceremony, while the South's President Moon Jae-in seized the opportunity to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington. Moon also held a summit with the North's leader Kim Jong Un in April, during which the two men vowed to strengthen cooperation in sports.
The two Koreas have often used sports to break ice on the volatile inter-Korea relations " by forming joint teams for international competitions from soccer to ice hockey. Eight female and eight male table tennis players from the North, including Kim Song I " a bronze medalist at women's singles at the 2016 Rio Summer Games " competed in the Korea Open, some jointly with Seoul's players.
Four joint teams " men's and women's doubles as well as two mixed doubles " were formed. The men's doubles team won bronze on Friday. The two Koreas also recently announced they would field joint teams in three sports, namely, canoeing, rowing and women's basketball, at next month's Asian Games to be held in Indonesia.