February 21, 2018 / 11:53 AM / a month ago

Olympics: Future of unified Korean ice hockey team not a given - coach

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - Sarah Murray is proud to have coached the combined North and South Korean women’s ice hockey squad at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics but is unsure whether the unified team will ever take the ice again.

Ice Hockey - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women's Classification Match - Switzerland v Korea - Kwandong Hockey Centre, Gangneung, South Korea - February 18, 2018 - Coach Sarah Murray and assistant coach Pak choi ho of North Korea (C) watch as their players gather around a team coach. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Murray had to reshape her squad just weeks before the Games after the two Koreas agreed to field a combined team, taking 12 players from the North and incorporating them into the South’s 23-player roster.

South Korea suggested the formation of a joint team as part of its efforts to use the Games to re-engage with the North and clear the way for talks over Pyeongyang’s weapons programme.

Although the team lost five straight games to end the Olympic tournament in last place, they generated huge interest at home and abroad. International Olympic Committee member Angela Ruggiero even suggested they should receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Murray said the attitude of her squad had been crucial in the successful integration of the North Korean players.

“If we had just one player who decided that they weren’t accepting the North on our team, it would have made things really difficult,” she told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Even the players that didn’t get the chance to play in every game, they were still buying into the system, they were still being a great member of the team.”

International Ice Hockey Federation chief Rene Fasel has left the door open to the combined team competing in four years’ time in Beijing.

“This situation that we were in was out of our control and we did a great job in the situation,” Murray said.

“So it is hard to comment on the combined team, because in this situation it worked, but it was out of our control, so I can’t really comment on the future at this time.”

South Korean goaltender Shin So-jung said focusing on training helped them come together as a team.

“We accepted that the decision cannot be reversed, so we decided to focus on training without being wielded by something that is out of our control,” she said.

“And with that process we could immerse ourselves only into the sport and into the training, which enabled us to play as one team, without distinguishing ourselves as North or South.”

Park Jong-ah, captain of the South Korean team, said they had got off to a rough start.

“We were floundering at the beginning, but once we played together as one team, we established camaraderie and we faced each other on a human level,” she said.

Writing by Peter Rutherford; Additional reporting by Hyun Oh,; Editing by Ed Osmond

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