GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — As South Korea’s national soccer coach prepared to play Japan in a 1954 World Cup qualifier, President Syngman Rhee, who’d been liberated, with the rest of Korea, from Japan’s brutal colonial rule in 1945, had some advice should the Koreans lose: “Don’t think about coming back alive,” he supposedly told the coach. “Just throw yourself into the Genkai Sea.”
There are sports rivalries, and then there’s Korea vs. Japan — an often toxic mix of violent history and politics, with a (un)healthy dose of cultural chauvinism and envy mixed in.
The fierce grudges over historical persecution and a thousand perceived national and cultural slights cannot be untwined from the sports for many Koreans. These swirling emotions were front and center Wednesday as a combined team of North and South Koreans played regional power Japan in women’s hockey.
Both had yet to win a game these Olympics. Both desperately wanted that win to come against their rival. But Japan pulled it out in the end, defeating the joint Korean team 4-1.