Culture helping Koreas row in same direction, says coach

Some Asian Games events will feature a combined North and South Korean team. (Reuters pic)

JAKARTA: Korean culture is helping rowers from the divided North and South to gel in their joint team at the Asian Games, a coach told AFP on Monday.

Koreans are taught from a young age to respect their elders, a cultural norm that has smoothed the path since athletes from the North and South were thrown together after just a few weeks’ training.

The two Koreas marched together at the opening ceremony in Jakarta and they have joined forces in rowing, canoeing, and women’s basketball at the Games, the latest sign of their thaw in relations.

“The younger guys in the team are following their older brothers quite well so the training is going smoothly,” said coach Hwang Woo-seok.

The joint teams come after North and South Koreans combined in women’s ice hockey at this year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, an event that set the stage for a surge of rapprochement.

“It is really important who is older or younger in Korean culture,” Hwang said. “The North’s coach is older than I am and he is also very understanding and helping me a lot.”

Despite the upbeat tone, Monday’s qualifying heat proved disappointing for the lightweight men’s eight, who came third out of four under a sweltering sun.

They, like the lightweight men’s four team who were fourth in their heat on Sunday, will have another chance to make the final later this week.

Song Ji-sun, 20, and Kim Un-hui, 17, however, have already earned a place in the lightweight women’s double sculls finals on Friday.

“We think that rowing is the best sport to symbolise harmony,” said Hwang.