A man who engineered the formation of a unified Korean team at the ongoing table tennis worlds still has to pinch himself.
Ryu Seung-min, the 2004 Olympic men's singles table tennis champion, said at a press conference in Halmstad, Sweden, on Thursday (local time) that he never expected the two Koreas to come together during the World Team Table Tennis Championships.
Now an International Olympic Committee member and vice president of the Korea Table Tennis Association, Ryu worked behind the scenes with the International Table Tennis Federation and North Korean officials to combine the two Koreas before they were to meet in the quarterfinals Thursday. This is the first unified Korean ping-pong squad since the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba City, Japan.
Ryu Seung-min, the 2004 Olympic men`s singles table tennis champion, speaks at a press conference in Halmstad, Sweden, on May 3 (local time). (Yonhap)
Ryu said there was no discussion on a possible joint team prior to the world championships.
"We didn't know what was going to happen, and even during our meeting, we didn't have high expectations," Ryu said. "And so I still can't believe we have the joint team on our hand."
Ryu said bringing the teams together goes a long way toward promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula, especially in light of the historic summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last week.
"I think the joint team (in women's hockey) at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics delivered a powerful message about peace," Ryu said. "Inter-Korean relations have improved a great deal since then, and peace is also considered very important in the world of sports. The ITTF's motto is 'Solidarity Through Table Tennis.' And I think the combined team fits that vision."
Korea will face Japan in Friday's semifinals. And since there is no third-place match, the two losers of the semifinals will each get a bronze medal.
The two have agreed not to cut any of the current five South Korean and four North Korean players for the semifinals. The South Korean players are: Jeon Ji-hee, Kim Ji-ho, Suh Hyo-won, Yang Ha-eun and Yoo Eun-chong. The North Koreans are Cha Hyo-sim, Choe Hyon-hwa, Kim Nam-hae and Kim Song-i.
All nine players will receive a medal, and both the South Korean and North Korean national flags will be raised in the medal ceremony. The athletes will each don their respective national uniforms, since their teams were brought together during the tournament and hadn't prepared any joint gear.
ITTF President Thomas Weikert called putting the two Korean teams together was a "historic" occasion celebrated by other participating nations.
"When I informed the (ITTF) board of directors about this development, the unified team received a standing ovation from the delegates who showed their sign of support to this historic move,"
Weikert said, who added there was no external pressure to combine the Korean teams and the ITTF has informed the IOC of the news.
The two Koreas are also trying to have the combined team at this year's Asian Games in Indonesia. (Yonhap)