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Reporter's log: Pride in Korean unity

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-12 10:21
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) marched together under a unified Korean flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb 9, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Late South Africa president Nelson Mandela once said: "Sport has the power to change the world" - a maxim that has become enshrined in textbooks and documentaries around the globe.

Having heard so many inspiring sports stories in my career, I truly believe the power of sport is strong enough to heal wounds, warm hearts and overcome setbacks. But what I am experiencing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has made me realize I still underestimate it.

When the joint delegations of the host Republic of Korea and its northern neighbor, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, marched in Friday's opening ceremony of the Games, it felt like the entire stadium was wrapped in a warm glow of unity ... which made the freezing winter night less unbearable.

The fact the two nations, which have technically been at war for decades, could bury the hatchet by marching their athletes together under the same flag in uniforms bearing the name 'Korea' was louder than any ode to the value of sport.

The emotional moment was repeated the next day when the two sides' unified women's hockey team drew overwhelming cheers from some 6,000 spectators during a match against Switzerland at Kwandong Hockey Center.

As the spectators clapped to a lyrical rhythm led by the DPRK cheer squad, I could feel their hearts were popping to the same beat, which made it one of the biggest home-court advantages I've ever experienced.

The lopsided 80 victory by Switzerland won't be remembered long, but the historic game that saw Koreans standing together instead of confronting each other will leave an indelible mark in the mind of everyone who witnessed it.

To be honest and realistic, the two sides will hardly melt the ice any time soon - just for the two-week union during the Games. But a Xinhua report that Kim Jongun, top leader of the DPRK, had sent a message expressing a desire to meet with his ROK counterpart, Moon Jaein, is a hopeful sign of defusing the tensions.

The power of sport has again proved capable of making changes that protests and diplomacy never could. And of warming a man when a down jacket couldn't help.

While I was crouching and shivering in my feather-stuffed coat, Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan Olympian who entered the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics' opening ceremony shirtless, did it again in the freezing winter chill in Pyeongchang.

Taufatofua carried his national flag into the ceremony bare-chested, wearing only a traditional Tongan dancing skirt called manafau to demonstrate the unique culture and courage of his nation.

"I won't freeze. I am from Tonga. We sailed across the Pacific. This is nothing," said the Taufatofua, who competed in taekwondo in Rio.

"It's a little bit warmer being in Rio than here. Here it's going to be cold once I get out there, but any time you get to represent your country is a good time."

The man's pride in forging a tough image of his country in front of the world outshone his bare, muscular torso, glistening with oil.

After all, there is no better occasion than the Olympic Games to make your country proud.

Sun Xiaochen is a sportswriter who will celebrate the Lunar Chinese New Year covering the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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