Unified Korea dragon boat team win historic gold at Asian Games

The feat marks the first time the North and the South have combined to win a top prize at a multisport competition.

Unified Korea dragon boat team win historic gold at Asian Games

The unified Korean 500m women’s dragon boat team delivered a historic gold medal at the Asian Games in Palembang on Sunday.

It was the first gold at a major multisport competition for a Unified Korea team.

The 16-member team won the top prize with a time of two minutes 24.7888 seconds, beating China - the silver medalists - by a hair’s breadth.

In the 200 meters, the unified team had already made history by winning a bronze medal on Saturday.

"While others prepared for years, we just had 20 days," team drummer To Myong-suk was quoted as saying by Korean news agencies after Saturday's bronze.

"This is a result that showed the bravery and wisdom of Korean people by combining our hearts and goals."

Dragon boating is a traditional form of canoeing - believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in China - where the paddlers race to the rhythm of a drummer that sits at the boat’s front.

Historic feat

During the medal delivery, instead of a national anthem, a popular Korean song called Arirang was played in celebration.

The Korean Unification flag, which bears the image of the Korean Peninsula, was raised during the ceremony.

The golden decoration will not count to either South or North Korea. It will instead be awarded to ‘Korea’ in the medal standings.

At the Asian Games in Indonesia, North and South Korea are also fielding unified teams in basketball and rowing.

During last week’s opening ceremony, the Korean teams marched together behind the Unification flag, held aloft jointly by South Korean women’s basketball player Lim Yung-hui and North Korean footballer Ju Kyong Chol.

This is only the fifth time in history that the two countries have set joint teams to international sports competitions.

Recent Korean sports ties

The compliance to field joint teams for the Asian Games follows an agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the South’s president Moon Jae-in at their summit in April.

Last month, the two nations played four basketball games at the Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium in Pyongyang. First, mixed games were played, with participants from both countries combined in two teams – Team Peace and Team Prosperity - before South and North teams faced each other, with the South beating the North 81-74 in the women's game, and the North defeating the South 82-70 in the men's encounter.

For the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony on 9 February, North and South Korea marched together under a unified flag, and a joint team was formed for the women's hockey event.

The division of the Korean Peninsula occurred after World War II, with the United States and the Soviet Union occupying the two parts of the country. North and South Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Military tension remains a fundamental obstacle to the improvement of Korean relations.