Five years ago in Indonesia, canoeists from South Korea and North Korea joined hands for dragon boat racing at the Asian Games, winning a gold medal and two bronze medals in their history-making appearance.
They won't have a chance to defend their title together at this year's Asian Games in China, however, as the Koreas are unlikely to assemble a joint squad this time. And if paddlers from the two countries go up against one another as foes, then there will be no love lost on the South Korean end.
"We're not going to take it easy on them," South Korean women's dragon boat captain Kim Hyeon-hee said Thursday during the national team media day in the central county of Buyeo. "We absolutely want to win that race if that happens."
Dragon boat will be a discipline of canoe at the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou. Kim was a member of the gold medal-winning unified Korean team in the women's 500 meters in 2018, along with another returning paddler, Byun Eun-jeong. Kim and Byun also raced to bronze in the women's 200m then.
The Korea Canoe Federation has not yet been able to confirm if North Korea will compete in dragon boat, but Kim said she and her teammates will not be surprised if North Korea sends its canoeists.
"We trained together for such a long time and won medals as a result of that. I do miss them, but if they do compete, I will regard them as our rivals," Kim said. "I clearly remember how good they were back then. And I will work hard with my teammates here to try to topple them and make sure our national anthem will be played at the end."
Byun, who shed tears when she parted ways with her North Korean teammates in 2018, said she will try to put aside her personal feelings if the all-Korean showdown materializes.
"Of course, we want to do better than North Korea this time," Byun said. "Meeting them again will take me back in time, though."
An Hyun-jin, who won bronze in the men's 1,000m with North Koreans five years ago, also had mixed feelings about a possible reunion with his former teammates from north of the border.
"A race is a race. But I also remember telling them we should try to meet again in the future," An said. "Hopefully, we will both battle as hard as we can and then spend some time together away from the competition afterward."
Park Min-ho, head coach of the men's team, said he wasn't worried about North Korea as a rival per se, because China, Chinese Taipei and Thailand will present much bigger challenges for South Korea.
"As far as I can tell, those other countries have prepared so hard for this event," Park said. "But we have a set of data that will help us against them. We're not going to pay particular attention to North Korea even if they do come, and we'll instead keep our focus on beating other contenders."
Source: Yonhap News Agency