Korean Athletes March Together Into Sydney Olympics


Led by a "unification flag," athletes and officials of north and south Korea march together into Stadium Australia during the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

 

In a historic highlight that stressed national unity and reconciliation, north and south Korean athletes marched together in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics on Sep. 15, walking behind a “unification flag” for the first time in the Olympics.

Led by a placard, which simply read “Korea”, 180 athletes and officials from north and south Korea marched together in the Olympic Stadium in Sydney with the same uniforms and to a tune of a national folk song. Behind the placard, the unification flag, a single blue-on-white flag depicting a map of the Korean Peninsula, proudly waved over smiling joint marchers. The flag, a symbol of Korea’s reunification, was carried by Pak Jung Chol, a north Korean judo coach, and Chun Un Son, a famous women’s basketball player from south Korea.

They drew thunderous applause from the capacity audience when they marched into the stadium, many holding hands together and waving. Warmly welcoming the joint Korean marchers with standing ovation, the crowd gave them a longer applause than others. The band played an emotional folk song, Arirang. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and other officials stood up, clapping their hands and waving to the Koreans.

North and south Korean athletes and officials mixed freely before the joint march, arriving at the stadium aboard the same buses and in identical uniforms - dark blue jackets and beige pants - with a name card-sized badge bearing a blue map of the Korean Peninsula.

“This is a very important symbol for our nation, eager to unify the country,” Chang Ung, an IOC member from north Korea, was quoted as saying.

“In the eyes of the whole world’s 3.7 billion television viewers, this was very significant. We became one body, the same race of the same blood,” added Kim Un Ryong, an IOC member from south Korea.

“It’s heart-warming,” said Pak Pil Sun, a spokesman for the south Korean delegation. “I believe that a cooperative mood between the two sides that made the joint march possible will accelerate inter-Korean sports exchanges.”

“My heart is exhilarated. I never thought this would be a reality,” Choe Myong Hwa, north Korean diver, was quoted as saying by the Los Angels Times. “This will bring us closer to reunification,” she added.

North Korea sent 31 athletes and 31 officials, or a total of 62, to Sydney. South Korea also sent 284 and 151, a total of 435.

In the historic North-South Joint Declaration signed between General Secretary Kim Jong Il and President Kim Dae Jung in the first inter-Korean Pyongyang summit held in June, north and south Korea agreed to build up trust between them by cooperating in such fields as social, cultural, sports activities, health and environment. The two sides formed a unified team for the 1991 Table Tennis World Championships in Chiba, Japan, and for the World Youth Soccer Championships in Portugal later that same year.

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