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The Korean bench celebrates Griffin’s goal. © Yonhap News.
Joint Korean hockey team scores first Olympic goal, but Japan triumphs 4-1

15 Feb 2018
Gangneung, Korea, February 14, 2018: As far as memorable Olympic moments go, a goal for Korea in a 4-1 defeat by Japan in the women’s ice hockey tournament would seem to be nothing special. But on this occasion, the goal for the unified Korean team (COR) brought the two sides of the divided peninsula even more together – and raised the roof on the Kwandong Hockey Centre.

As part of the deal to welcome DPR Korea into the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South, authorities decided to field a joint women’s team, with 12 players from the North being added to the 23 already selected by the South.

Their first two games in Group B, against Switzerland and Sweden, had ended in 8-0 defeats, but their opponents on Wednesday, Japan, gave the Koreans the chance to be crowned the top team in Asia on the Olympic stage.

Japan jumped out into an early 2-0 lead, and that’s the way it stayed at the end of the first period, but at 29:31 in the second period the whole complexion of the game changed when Randi Griffin Hee-soo – an American whose mother is ethnic Korean – saw her weak shot bobble past the goalie and into the net.

The crowd of 4,110 – including two sections of North Korean cheer leaders – erupted as COR registered its first goal of the Winter Olympics. Although Japan went on to win 4-1, the moment will never be forgotten considering the deeper political ramifications of the historic goal.

Griffin preferred to look at the big picture after the game, rather than focusing on her own personal achievement. “I am not a hero. I got lucky,” she admitted. “It was a pretty crap shot that took a couple of bounces and went in.”

She said she had mixed emotions - disappointed with the result but very proud of the way the team had played. “This was the best game we have played at the Olympics and the best ever we have played against Japan, so it was a huge step forward for the programme. It is a mixture of emotions – proud that we got a goal but sadness that we lost.”

The players from North and South came together just a few days before the Olympics began, and Griffin was asked what it was like mixing with people from the reclusive North. “They are just people, young women and hockey players like us,” she replied. “When we are dining together we just talk about normal things like what food we like or about boyfriends. They are just people.”

Even though most of the players are from the Korean peninsula, there has still been a language barrier – but that has been broken down over the past couple of weeks, said Griffin. “There has been some challenge related to language.

South Korean players use English words when talking about hockey, which is something the North Korean players did not do. But now I can hear the North Korean players saying ‘line change’ or ‘face off’, so we make it work.”

Griffin, 29, took up hockey after watching the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, on TV – and now she hopes the efforts of the team here at PyeongChang will inspire Korean youngsters to consider hockey as a sports career rather than figure skating or speed skating.
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