At the semifinals that kicked off around noon, the impeccable teamwork of Jang Woo-jin of South Korea and Cha Hyo-sim of North Korea caught Taiwan’s Chen Chien-An and Cheng I-Ching off guard with a score of 3-2 (6-11, 11-5, 16-14, 11-6, 11-4) at the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Platinum Korea Open in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul.
Jang and Cha are now qualified to play Saturday’s final at Chungmu Sports Arena. They are set to face the Chinese duo of Wang Chuqin and Sun Yingsha, who crushed South Korea’s Lim Jong-hoon and Yang Ha-eun at a separate semifinal match Friday.
|Players Cha Hyo-sim of North Korea (left) and Jang Woo-jin of South Korea (right) high-five each other at the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Platinum Korea Open in Daejeon on Friday. Both are part of a unified Korean mixed double table tennis team. (Yonhap)|
About 200 audience members, mostly pro-unification civic groups, Daejeon citizens, and those who traveled from other regions in the scorching 38 degrees Celsius weather, rooted for the unified team. They waved flags depicting a map of a unified Korean Peninsula and hung banners that read “We are One.”
“With the mood of peace surrounding the peninsula, I’m just happy to cheer for players that share the same roots and blood,” Kim Hyun-sik, a 72-year-old Daejeon local, told The Korea Herald.
“It’s like reliving the ’90s -- all the attention and passion surrounding the unified table tennis team is still here,” Kim said, referring to the unified Korean team that won the women’s team gold medal at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan.
When Cha’s one final smash ended the match in favor of the Korean team, the audience members jumped up from their seats and shouted “We won!” in harmony. Both players flashed big smiles and thanked the crowd by waving their hands before leaving the arena.
“Cha Hyo-sim technically handles the game very well,” Jang told the press after the game. “We don’t think we’ll lose because we have good chemistry,” he added.
Jang also noted that he has gotten closer to North Korean players while practicing together for the competition.
“I thought about (saying goodbye to the North Korean players) last night before sleeping. I feel more emotionally attached to them and we feel like one team. When they leave I’ll be sad and will miss them,” he said.
Jang and Cha who are unseeded, had to get through the qualification stage Tuesday. They have since taken down the second-seeded Wong Chun Ting-Doo Hoi Kem (Hong Kong), fifth-seeded Ho Kwan Kit-Lee Ho Ching and fourth-seeded Chen-Cheng.
The unified men’s doubles duo, Lee Sang-su of the South and Pak Sin-hyok of the North, also advanced to the semifinals on the same day, after beating Liang Jingkun and Yan An of China 3-2 (11-9, 13-11, 3-11, 4-11, 11-7) in the quarterfinals.
Four inter-Korean doubles teams were formed to compete against global rivals at this tournament. One other mixed doubles team, Choe Il of the North and Yoo Eun-chong of the South, lost in the round of 16 on Thursday. The women’s doubles team of Suh Hyo-won of the South and Kim Song-i of the North also fell in the round of 16.
The unified teams were formed as the two Koreas are expanding cross-border sports and cultural exchanges after North Korea dispatched a delegation of athletes and officials to the Feb.9-25 PyeongChang Olympics. The South and North agreed to make a joint entrance and field joint teams in basketball, dragon boat racing and rowing at the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games in August.
By Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com)