Olympic hopes over for unified Korean team after 8-0 drubbing

The unified hockey team was hastily assembled only two weeks before the Olympics began — and it showed in the one-sided losses to Switzerland and now Sweden.

Unified Korea's Kim Heewon controls the puck in the women's preliminary round ice hockey match against Sweden at the Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung on Monday.   -  AFP

North Korea's band of all-female supporters was unable to inspire the historic joint Korean women's ice hockey team as it was dumped out of the Pyeongchang Olympics with an 8-0 defeat to Sweden on Monday.

The unified team for the Winter Games in South Korea was the product of a landmark deal between the South and North Korea — the neighbours still technically at war — after a year of high tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.

The home crowd — seated among them the North Korean cheerleaders — roared their players as they skated onto the ice in their blue-and-red jerseys, "KOREA" emblazoned over a pale blue silhouette of the peninsula.

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The joint team is deeply symbolic, but as a hockey side it was at the Games with little hope of making a serious impression in terms of the competition.

And so it proved as it was hammered 8-0 for the second time in a row, this time to the Swedes, ranked five in the world.

Sweden was 3-0 up in just 10 minutes and the heavy defeat means Korea plays Japan on Wednesday in a dead rubber.

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The unified hockey team was hastily assembled only two weeks before the Olympics began — and it showed in the one-sided losses to Switzerland and now Sweden.

"Adding new players obviously isn't easy but I think going into this tournament we knew it was going to be tough," said the joint team's Canadian coach Sarah Murray.

'Cheer up'

But even as the home team was being pounded, the 200-strong North Korean cheerleaders in red, blue and white tracksuits chanted, "Cheer up", clapping and waving mini-unification flags in unison and setting off a Mexican wave.

The unity was interrupted when a four-member South Korean cheering group, in tight white T-shirts and pink shorts, skipped and hopped to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend".

The North Koreans responded with songs of their own — mostly old folk numbers, including a ballad longing for one's home town — showing a deep cultural divide between the two halves of the divided peninsula.

The Games have triggered a rare moment of reconciliation between the two Koreas.

Despite the disappointing consecutive losses local fans at the stadium were more bothered about the significance of the joint team. "I know we lack skill compared to other teams but I hope they will play with one mind," said Kim Sang-wook, 62, from Seoul.

Koo Bon-jae, a 20-year-old student from the South Korean capital, added: "I was initially against it but I was touched after seeing them on the ice together."

Since the division of the peninsula the two Koreas have only competed as unified teams in 1991, when their women won the team gold at the world table tennis championship in Japan, and their under-19 footballers reached the world championship quarterfinals in Portugal.

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