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NORTH KOREA

Sweden crushes unified Korean team’s Olympic hopes in historic game

Sweden sent the historic joint Korean women's ice hockey team out of the Pyeongchang Olympics with an 8-0 victory.

Sweden crushes unified Korean team's Olympic hopes in historic game
Sweden's Erica Uden Johansson scores against South Korean goalie Shin So-jung. Photo: Kyung Hoon Kim/Pool Photo via AP

The unified team for the Winter Games in South Korea was the product of a landmark deal betweeen 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.

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

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

SWEDEN'S PECULIAR RELATIONSHIP WITH NORTH KOREA:

Sweden were 3-0 up in just ten minutes and the heavy defeat means Korea play Japan on Wednesday in their final match in a deadrubber.

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 were 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 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.

IN PICTURES: This is what it looked like when Sweden defeated the Korean team

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

Only a few months ago, Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests and exchanges of threats with Washington were driving tensions sky-high.

But in a whirlwind of Olympic diplomacy, hundreds of North Koreans came South last week to attend the Pyeongchang Games.

And in extraordinary scenes the North Korean leader's sister Kim Yo Jong cheered the unified team together with the South's President Moon Jae-in in the defeat on Saturday to Switzerland.

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 reachedthe world championship quarter-finals in Portugal.

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STOCKHOLM

The year Sweden organized the Olympics and defied expectations

Stockholm Olympic Stadium defied those who said Sweden wasn't advanced enough to host the Olympic Games in 1912, and has survived to become the world's oldest Olympic stadium actively in use.

The year Sweden organized the Olympics and defied expectations
Stockholm's Olympic Stadium as it used to look. Photo: Bertil Norberg/TT

This article was written for Members of The Local. Read more articles for Members here.

Taking inspiration from the medieval city wall of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, Swedish architect and athlete Torben Grut designed a stadium for the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm that would stand as a fortress of athleticism.

His success was both immediate and enduring, and the now-historic stadium has lived up to its impressive façade for more than a century, hosting countless sporting and cultural events, witnessing more than 80 athletic world records, surviving a bombing, and simply reminding the world of its important place in Olympic history.

Initially, however, the outlook for both the stadium and the Stockholm Olympics – the fifth modern Olympic games – was far from promising. As historian Therese Nordlund Edvinsson wrote in a 2014 article in The International Journal of the History of Sport, despite Sweden's “modest ambitions” for the games, “critics argued that the country was too undeveloped to arrange a major sport event”.

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Djurgården versus AIK in 1915 at Stockholm Stadium. Photo: TT

The original plan for the stadium was an accordingly modest – and temporary – whitewashed wooden structure. The decision to make it permanent was likely a relief to Grut, whose other designs included Solliden Palace, the summer residence of the Swedish royal family on the island of Öland. Though still relatively small, with an original seating capacity of around 20,000, the completed stadium became a model for subsequent Olympic stadiums. Likewise, and in defiance of the critics, the Stockholm Olympic Games were considered a great success.  

In a 2012 article entitled, “Stockholm 1912 set the gold standard for the modern Olympics,” in the British newspaper The Guardian, sports journalist Frank Keating wrote, “Stockholm's 1912 Games are still considered standard-setting for Olympic decades to come. Women's competition was allowed for swimming and diving, while men's boxing was banned: and on the track photo-finish electronic-timing was introduced as a back-up to the hand-held judges' stopwatch.” It was also, he explained, “the last Olympics where any individual could just turn up and hope to enter a competition”.

MORE HISTORY FEATURES BY VICTORIA MARTÍNEZ:


One of the numerous concerts organized at the Stockholm Stadium. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Over the years, the appearance of Stockholm Olympic Stadium has changed little, and the seating capacity has even been reduced. In 2011 and 2012, the stadium underwent its only major renovation in preparation for its centenary. Nonetheless, it has been an incredibly adaptable venue, serving for many years as home to Swedish football team Djurgårdens IF, and accommodating a wide variety of sporting and cultural events – from ice hockey to American football and from Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti to Swedish DJ Avicii. It is also where the Stockholm Marathon ends each year.

The stadium has also maintained a long and at times somewhat chequered connection to the Olympic Games. In 1956, for instance, the equestrian events of the Summer Olympics taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were hosted some 15,000 kilometres away in Stockholm Olympic Stadium due to animal quarantine restrictions in Australia. And in August 1997, as Stockholm vied to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, the stadium was one of several sites in Sweden bombed or set alight by Swedish far-right extremists opposed to Sweden hosting the games.

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Although modern stadiums designed or used for the Summer Olympics now typically seat three to four times more people than Stockholm Olympic Stadium did in 1912, the historic venue still has a chance of returning to its Olympic origins. If Stockholm-Åre is selected to host the Winter Olympics in 2026, the snowboarding competitions are slated to take place in the landmark stadium, neatly tying together 114 years of Olympic history.

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

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