North-South Ping-Pong players pair up in Doha

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North-South Ping-Pong players pair up in Doha


Table tennis players and coaching staff from South and North Korea, including South Korea’s Ryu Seung-min, fourth from right, a former Olympic champion, and the North’s Kim Hyok-bong, sixth from right, pose for a group photo on Monday in Doha. [YONHAP]

DOHA, Qatar - Table tennis players from South and North Korea, paired together in doubles teams for an international tournament in Doha, said Sunday they are looking forward to the rare opportunity of playing alongside each other.

The players will compete in doubles teams at the inaugural Peace and Sport Cup tournament on Tuesday. In men’s doubles, South Korea’s Ryu Seung-min, a former Olympic champion, will pair with the North’s Kim Hyok-bong. On the women’s side, Kim Kyong-ah will represent the South and Kim Hye-song will play for the North.

The Koreas last formed a joint team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba City, Japan, and won the gold medal in the women’s team event.

Kim Kyong-ah said she considers it a “big honor” to play alongside a North Korean player for the first time in her career.

“This is a small exhibition event but we’d like to win this title, just as the two Koreas did back in Chiba,” Kim said at a press conference. “Since we speak the same language, I think we have a major edge over other teams. I’ve known Kim Hye-song for a while and by playing together here, I expect us to get even closer.”

Organized by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and Monaco-based Peace and Sport Foundation, the tournament has brought together players from 10 nations that have historically been at odds with each other to unite in doubles teams. For instance, India and Pakistan are fielding joint doubles teams this week, as are the U.S. and Russia. China, Qatar, France and Japan are also participating in the Doha event.

Kim Hye-song said she was pleased to be a part of the all-Korea pairing and added, “Hopefully, we can meet in the same pairing after our countries are unified.”

“I am going to give my best out there and I really want to win the competition,” Kim said.

Ryu Seung-min, the men’s singles gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said playing alongside a North Korean player would be “a very different experience.”

“For all these years, I’ve only played against North Koreans and we’ve all tried to beat each other,” Ryu said. “I am glad we’ve joined forces this time. Kim Hyok-bong is an all-around player and I’ve got some speed. If we can complement each other, we should be able to win.”

Kim Hyok-bong said he hoped the tournament would help promote world peace and friendship among international athletes.

The ITTF and Peace and Sport Foundation have said the tournament was designed to “encourage dialogue and good relations” among countries.

The foundation has said key government officials and diplomats from participating countries will attend the tournament, “fostering political communication and relations at the highest level.”

The Peace and Sport event harks back to the ping-pong diplomacy between the U.S. and China three decades ago, which eventually led to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972.

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