Koreans bask in euphoria of joint Olympic march at Sydney
SYDNEY (AP) -- For at least a little while, North or South didn't matter. They were simply Koreans, and it was time to bask in a magical moment of symbolism.
After marching hand in hand behind a single flag for the first time in the Olympics during Friday's opening ceremony, athletes and officials from North and South Korea acted like long-lost friends.
"It was one of the best and happiest moments in my life," said Lee Jong-sam, general-secretary of South Korea's Amateur Boxing Federation. "It was far more emotional than I had expected it to be."
Lee was part of the 180-member Korean delegation that marched before a capacity crowd of 110,000 at Olympic Stadium. Their entrance during the parade of athletes prompted an emotional standing ovation.
"For the first time in my life, I felt like we are the same people who share the same emotion and the same blood. Blood is thicker than anything else," said Pak Jung Chul, the North Korean flag-bearer.
Pak, a judo coach, carried the "unification" flag, which bears a blue map of the Korean peninsula, with Chung Eun-sun, a star South Korean women's basketball player.
Pak, who had been pre-designated as his country's flag-carrier before coming to Sydney, said he never expected to share the honour with a South Korean.
"I, with my South Korean partner, waved the unification flag as hard as I could. I was so emotionally moved I wished I could lift myself like a rocket so all people around the world could see it," Pak said.
Pak said Chung was visibly overjoyed. As the flag reached the VIP box, she suddenly shouted as loud as possible: "Nothing is great like this!" Pak said he clasped her hand with tears in his eyes.
From the VIP box, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch stood up, clapping and waving.
Kye Sun Hui, a North Korean judo hopeful, regretted that she opted not to march because of her program to tune up ahead of competition.
"I had difficulty fighing back tears when I watched it on TV. Even if I did not share the happy moment, I will pay it off by winning another gold medal," she said.
Kye, 21, caused a sensation when she beat Japanese judo great Ryoko Tamura at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and won gold in the under 49-kilogram class.
Tamura, 25, was unbeaten until then and won another 49 in a row afterward at that weight. She has since moved up to 52 kilograms.
A friendly mood was also evident at the archery field, where athletes and officials from the two Koreas freely mixed, smiling and greeting each other with bear hugs.
"Even before the joint march, we were friends. But after that, I feel closer to them, and they speak and act like they feel closer to us," said Kim Soo-nyung. The 29-year-old mother of two and winner of three Olympic golds and one silver is making a comeback from seven years in retirement.
Teamed with two colleagues, she set a new world record of 1,994 points in the opening round of the women's archery Saturday, breaking the four-year-old mark of 1,984 set by another South Korean team in Atlanta.
Afterward, Kim approached North Korean archer Choe Ok Sil and whispered: "We did it in the joint march. Let's do it in the competition, too."