GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - With talk of a gold medal in diplomacy and a Nobel Peace Prize the united Korean women’s ice hockey team bowed out of the Pyeongchang Olympic tournament proper on Wednesday with a handshake and a sense of achievement but without a win.
The unified Korean storyline has been pure gold in Pyeongchang but the reality was something very different.
In plain sporting terms this was a disaster, three straight losses (8-0, 8-0, 4-1) while scoring just a single goal.
This of course made no difference to North Korea’s “Army of Beauties”, an all-female cheerleading delegation dispatched to Pyeongchang to offer encouragement who performed their duties with dedication and enthusiasm despite the absence of any real reason to cheer beyond a landmark first Olympic goal.
For coaches and Olympic athletes moral victories do not carry the same heft as a medal placed around their necks.
For hockey players, even those thrown together to score political points not goals, success is built on results not lofty ideals.
“It’s been an adventure, everything that has happened to our team in the last three weeks it’s been tough,” said Canadian Sarah Murray, who was handed the monumental challenge of coaching a team made up of players from two countries still technically at war.
“We know coming into the tournament it was going to be tough and our goal of advancing was something we knew was a difficult, difficult challenge but we thought if we played well together we could make it work. The three losses were unfortunate,” she said.
“After losing those first two games we were hungry to win. I think they are pretty devastated. It was a tough loss. The girls are pretty upset.”
There may be awards coming, IOC member Angela Ruggiero suggesting the unified team be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but there will definitely be no Olympic medals.
A 4-1 loss to Japan, a former colonial power and common arch- rival for both North and South Korea, on Wednesday officially brought that fanciful dream to an end.
For Murray the work continues with seeding games that will help determine world rankings.
The remaining contests, which will be played out quietly away from the medal chase, will be the ones that matter to South Korea as they look towards the future and building the sport which is unlikely to include the North.
The 12 North Korea players will, however, continue to be part of the team through the Olympic classification matches.
“Once the decision was made to combine the teams we were one team so going into this tournament we were one team preparing to play,” Murray said. “Our games weren’t a political statement for us, they were just games.
“We were just a team coming together to play in the Olympics, same as Sweden, same as Japan, same as Canada we were one team.
“We weren’t trying to make a statement we were just trying to put together our best game with the roster we had.”
Editing by Ed Osmond