GANGNEUNG (AFP) – Goalkeeper Shin So-jung pulled off an astonishing 51 saves but was powerless to stop the joint Korean women’s ice hockey team losing their fourth Olympic match on the bounce yesterday.
The historic team which includes South Koreans and 12 North Koreans cannot win a medal at the Pyeongchang Games and are now fighting for pride, having shipped 22 goals and scored just once.
Their latest defeat was 2-0 to Switzerland but the scoreline would have been much worse were it not for goalkeeper Shin, who performed heroics.
“We are now 10 days in (to the Olympics) and I hope we can have 10 more days,” said Shin, the star performer who single-handedly kept the scoreline respectable.
“I was nervous in the first game when the puck came towards me but since the (third) match against Japan, I’ve been wanting the puck to continue coming to me,” said the South Korean.
Shin alone could not keep the Swiss away and the Koreans lacked punch upfront, with goals to Switzerland’s Sabrina Zollinger and Evelina Raselli proving fatal to the home side.
The 200-plus North Korean cheerleaders were not in attendance this time among the crowd of nearly 6,000 packed into the raucous Kwandong Hockey Centre.
But the fervent home crowd still gave their struggling side a reception more befitting gold medallists than minnows.
“That’s pretty crazy,” said Korean coach Sarah Murray, referring to the almost full house for a match that had only classification placings at stake.
“It’s amazing how much support our team has been getting and we definitely feel loved,” added the Canadian.
For many spectators, the Korean team, which was cobbled together late on after a rare inter-Korean agreement just a few weeks ahead of the Olympics, was about much more than a game.
“I think it was the only match in the Pyeongchang Olympics where the results really didn’t matter,” said Choi Lee-hyun, who came from Seoul to watch the game.
Choi Won-soon, another local fan, added: “The joint team was able to send a message to everyone that Korea is one.”
The addition of North Korean players initially provoked a backlash in the South, with accusations that Seoul was depriving some of its own players the chance to compete at a home Olympics for political purposes.
But after an awkward beginning, the players said they were beginning to become a family.
“As time passes, I feel like we are really becoming one team. It feels like we are a family,” said South Korean player Eom Su-yeon.
“I think we are improving because we have a goal we want to achieve together.”
Korea will play their last match tomorrow.