The unified Korea women’s ice hockey team were soundly beaten 8-0 by Switzerland on Saturday’s opening day of the Winter Olympics as sport and politics continued to mix in Pyeongchang.
When South Korea president Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, at Friday night’s opening ceremony, many thought it was more than a polite gesture.
Relations may be thawing. Kim Yo-jong and Moon met in Seoul on Saturday, where it was reported she invited South Korea’s leader to Pyeongyang for the first summit between leaders of the neighbouring nations for 10 years.
Often it has said that sport and politics should not mix. But at these Olympics they are intertwined.
The build-up has been dominated by matters involving North Korea and Russia.
Kim Yo-jong and North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam were sitting beside International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach here, as a unified Korea team played in the Games for the first time.
Rarely can a ice hockey arena, one where sticks are swung, bodies are slammed and violence can break out, be considered the scene for rapprochement.
Yet last month the North agreed with South Korea to send 22 athletes and a 230-strong ‘cheering squad’ to Pyeongchang.
As 12 of those athletes in the unified ice hockey team took to the ice for the warm-up at Kwandong Hockey Centre, the cheering squad arrived, later dancing along with western music performed by two South Korean rappers.
The team played together for the first time last Sunday in Incheon, losing 3-1 to Sweden.
Here they met a Switzerland squad vastly more experienced at playing together.
Korea held firm until Swiss ace Alina Muller scored twice in quick succession midway through the first period.
And thereafter Switzerland appeared more likely to reach double figures than to concede a goal in a comfortable victory.
The handshake between the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in was highlighted as Games organisers reflected on the opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Kim Yo-jong had become the first member of the ruling Pyongyang family to set foot in the south since the end of the Korean War so her greeting with Moon Jae-in was seen as symbolic.
“It was a great moment,” said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams during the first daily briefing of the Games.
“It opens the door and helps build bridges. The Olympic Games is a symbol of how things might be in the world.”
The North and South Korean teams marched side-by-side under a unified flag during the athletes’ parade section of the ceremony which ended with Korean skating superstar Kim Yu-Na, Olympic champion in Vancouver in 2010, lighting the Olympic flame to get the Games underway after being handed the torch at the top of an ice chute.
“As an athlete myself it was a great honour for me to be the last torch bearer,” she said.
“It has been a few years since I retired from skating but I was able to skate for a bit before lighting the cauldron and it was an unforgettable moment.”
Song Senung Hwan, executive creative director for the opening ceremony, said he had been able to make this most of his budget which was KRW60 billion (£40million).
“We had to create a ceremony on a limited budget with maximum impact. We started with a low budget but we were able to convey all our messages. I wanted to show that South Korea is a small but strong country.”
POCOG spokesman Sung Baik You was asked about a possible cyber attack on Friday night after some problems with technology. Televisions in the Main Press Centre were affected during the opening ceremony.
He said: “There were some issues which impacted some of our non critical systems for a few hours. We are investigating the cause and checking all systems. At the moment we cannot confirm the cause.”
Kim, who captured gold at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and controversially took silver in Sochi four years later, performed a brief skate routine at Friday’s opening ceremony before receiving the torch and sending flames shooting up to the cauldron.
“I skated for 10 years but that was the first time I’ve skated so high up,” the 27-year-old told reporters.
“When you’re on the ice competing you don’t really see the crowd. You’re just thinking about not falling, you just focus on your skating.
“But that was the first time I’ve done anything in front of so many people. When I lit the flame it was a little surreal. I felt sort of numb with emotion.”
Kim, a national idol in South Korea, took the flame from two members of the joint Korean women’s hockey team – Chung Su Hyon of North Korea and Park Jong-ah of South Korea at the top of a flight of 120 stairs.
Kim revealed that the torch handover had not been rehearsed.
“I was worried there might be some problem,” she said. “When my eyes met the North Korean athlete’s I just smiled. But I was nervous. When you’re competing you can go back and make up for mistakes.
“But you only have one chance to light the Olympic flame and the whole world is watching. It all happened so quickly, it was kind of surreal.”