A Unified Korea team featuring athletes from North and South Korea won dragon boat bronze for their first medal at the Asian Games on Saturday.
The highly symbolic all-Korean team, competing together after a rapid improvement in cross-border relations, came in behind China and hosts Indonesia in the women’s 200 metres race.
The athletes were in tears afterwards as they sung “Arirang”, a traditional Korean folk song, to celebrate winning their medal.
“I was deeply emotional,” said South Korean canoeist Eun Jeong-byun. “We’re divided and forbidden from seeing each other but we both know the same song and speak the same language.
“By singing that song, we felt we were one nation — yet we aren’t able to see each other.”
The two Koreas have also joined forces in rowing at the regional Olympics as well as women’s basketball, in which they lie second in their group after three wins out of four.
The North Korean athletes hardly knew what dragon boating, a traditional form of canoeing, was until the team came together 20 days ago.
“I was initially worried about there being a barrier between us (the two coaches),” said South Korean coach Yeong Kang-geun.
“But the North Korean coach told me I could do whatever I wanted and he would cooperate because he didn’t know much about dragon boating.
“That happened on the first day, within five minutes, so we became close very quickly.”
At last week’s opening ceremony, the Korean teams marched together behind the Unified Korea flag, held aloft jointly by South Korean women’s basketball player Lim Yung-hui and North Korean footballer Ju Kyong Chol.
The two Koreas had paraded together and formed a joint women’s ice hockey team at February’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, setting the scene for an unprecedented warming of ties.