Don’t they look happy about it? Nope. North Korea’s Kang Un Ju and Pak Yong Won lost their mixed team recurve gold medal match against Japan in Jakarta at the Asian Games this morning.
The winners of the recurve mixed team events in all the sub-Olympic continental competitions will now qualify two spots – one man, and one woman – for Tokyo. The final this morning saw the team of Takaharu Furukawa and Sugimoto Tomomi show the exceptional quality they have been displaying all year, notably when they beat Korea in Antalya, and they ended up thumping the DPRK 6-0. However, Japan will qualify automatically as hosts just as long as they contest the world championships next year, which is more than a certainty. I mean they would swim to get to the Netherlands if necessary.
So the DPRK’s Kang Un Ju and Pak Yong Won will actually be the first archers to qualify for the Olympics – although technically, this cannot be officially announced until next year and World Archery can’t broadcast it. I can though. Whee. From their faces though, I think they’d rather have the Asian Games title. Someone who was there said “I’ve never seen two people pack up their bow cases that quickly.” You hope they won’t have to go off to some sort of camp somewhere and have to explain why they lost. For the next five years.
The nicest thing of all was: watching the feed early this morning, I thought I heard some familiar voices shouting familiar things. In the background, you could just see several members of the (South) Korean team, loudly cheering on their northern counterparts. I wasn’t sure, but I sent a message to someone in their camp, who said: “Yes, absolutely. We were one country.” The Asian Games seems to be a regular stage for this cross-border sentiment; this year saw the first gold medal won by a unified Korea team, in the very grand sport of dragon boat racing. The last outing, in Incheon in 2014, saw the crowds at a North Korea v South Korea football match chanting “we are one” at the pitch. There have even been abandoned attempts at getting the archery teams to train together.
If Korean unification happens in our lifetimes (and I’m increasingly thinking it probably will) as usual, sport will play a vital role in breaking down symbolic barriers, before and after.
It seems Ki Bo Bae, after originally saying she wouldn’t commentate, has once again picked up the microphone to commentate for KBS on the Asian Games, just as she did four years ago in Incheon. Perhaps a very large cheque was involved. She has confirmed that she is definitely not packing up her bow yet and will be trying for Tokyo, although there is still no official word on the now-multiply-confirmed rumour that the newly married Bo Bae has – how can I put this – another rather big non-archery event happening this year? Is that subtle enough for everyone? 🙂
More? Read about how I poked around the North Korean embassy in London.