North Korean Kim Hyok-bong (right) defeated South Korea`s Joo Sae-hyuk in the men`s singles table tennis on Monday at London`s ExCeL Arena. (London Olympic Joint Press Corps)
LONDON -- In the first inter-Korean showdown at the London Olympics Monday, North Korean Kim Hyok-bong defeated South Korea's Joo Sae-hyuk in the men's singles table tennis.
At London's ExCeL Arena, Kim, ranked 77th in the world, eliminated the 10th-ranked Joo from the third round with a 4-2 (11-5, 6-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8, 15-13) victory.
This was Joo's first match in the Olympics. He'd received byes through the first two rounds. After conceding the opening game, the South Korean fought back to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven competition.
But Kim, known more for his defensive style of play, was the aggressive one in this match. He took the next two games relying on hard drives to regain the lead.
In the sixth game, Kim blew a 10-8 lead and was forced into deuce four times before prevailing 15-13.
Officials and fellow players from both Koreas shouted encouragements to Kim and Joo from the stands. Kim's two teammates, Jang Song-man and Kim Song-nam, at first sat in the same row as South Korean coaches and players, but later moved farther back when more South Koreans came in to take seats.
After the match, Kim was quickly ushered away from the media by a team official as he passed through the mixed zone.
Joo said he couldn't find his groove early on and that affected his confidence.
"I had to play catch up, and Kim didn't make mistakes," Joo said. "I didn't feel any extra nervousness just because this was an all-Korea match. I just didn't play well. It's disappointing, but I can now concentrate on the team event."
The Koreas competed as one nation at the 1991 world championships in Japan and won the women's team title. Last November in Qatar, players from the two Koreas were paired together in doubles at the inaugural Peace and Sport Cup, organized by the International Table Tennis Federation. Kim Hyok-bong then played doubles with Ryu Seung-min, a current member of the South Korean team in London.
Amid strained inter-Korean ties in recent years, sports exchange between the countries has virtually stopped. The two countries marched in under a unified Korean flag at the opening ceremonies for the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics, but haven't organized a joint march since.
South Korea has 245 athletes competing in 22 sports, while North Korea has 56 in 11 sports. (Yonhap News)