Ice hockey moms aren’t angry, just disappointed
South Korea’s unification minister said on Thursday that the two Koreas have agreed to add five to six North Korean ice hockey players to the South’s 23-woman roster. However, the final decision regarding the number of players will be made on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland in a meeting chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and atended by South and North Korean officials.
“It makes me upset but there’s nothing we can do,” said Lee Eun-young, Park Chae-lin’s mother. “We’ve accepted it now.”
Though the Olympic squad is limited to 23 players, only 22 players can go on the roster for each game. Substitutions are made regularly during games, rotating the 22 players. Considering the limited positions, the addition of North Korean players won’t help the team much, as it means less or even no playing time for the South Korean players who have been training to play at the Olympics for the past five to 10 years.
When the topic of creating a unified team was first brought up, players, coaches and parents all voiced their dismay on the Blue House petition page. In the end, the decision came as a surprise so there was no chance to organize a formal protest.
Parents were left especially heartbroken when Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said “they’re not likely to medal…”
“It sounded like he was requesting the athletes to put on a show since they won’t be winning anyway,” Lee Eun-young said. “I’m not satisfied about having the athletes wear the unification flag on their chest rather than a Taegeuk mark.”
Park, who started playing ice hockey at age 7, has been on the Korean national women’s team for six years. In 2015, Park was given an opportunity to study abroad in Canada with the support of the Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA), as she was chosen as a rising star in women’s ice hockey. Now, she is the one of the leading defenders.
“There hasn’t been an exact announcement, but some will face damage,” Lee Eun-young said. “It seems like the government is simply considering this as an event.”
Lee isn’t the only one with concerns to voice.
Woo Hee-joon, the mother of Han Do-hee, feels like the players are trapped. “How can they say no when the president tells them to. I just feel bad for them,” she explained.
Han Do-hee started playing ice hockey at age 8 with her older brother, who currently plays for High1 of Asia League Ice Hockey. Having gotten chosen for the national team at 11, Han has been playing for Korea for 13 years. Though she’s been on the team for 13 years, she hasn’t even played in ten games, as Shin So-jung had been the starting goaltender.
Han got some playing time during the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship Division II Group A matches due to the absence of Shin, who was injured.
“Our family was driving to Gangneung in April, when Do-hee said she’ll be playing in games,” Woo said. “But she called again saying she won’t be able to play, so we drove back home from Pyeongchang and watched her play on the television. I was proud to see her play well. She said she wants to play in at least one game at the Olympics and I hope she does.”
“Each player on the national team has their own story,” said Cho Hyo-sang, Han Soo-jin’s mother. “It does hurt to hear about having a unified team, but they just need to keep on working hard.”
Just as Han Soo-jin’s mother said, the players on the Korean women’s ice hockey team come from various backgrounds, from a Harvard graduate to a pianist. Han Soo-jin, the former professional pianist, may have made the most dramatic career change.
“She’s been writing her training log for over ten years now,” Cho said. “She even went to the training center by herself during vacation.”
Han Soo-jin headed to Japan in 2011 to learn ice hockey. Supporting herself with multiple part-time jobs, Han Soo-jin played in a club team in Japan.
“Soo-jin told me that she cried once she heard the news about Korea hosting the Winter Olympics,” Cho said. “It makes sense for us to vent our anger because this is happening so close to the Olympics. Now that everyone [Soo-jin] played with has retired, she is the oldest on the team. She said she feels the responsibility now.”
Though Han Soo-jin’s mother wants her to retire after the Olympics, she is hoping to play until the World Championship.
“I believe that ice hockey can be like football or handball,” Cho said. “If they were younger, they would have gotten better opportunities… The players’ only hope is having a proper women’s professional ice hockey team.”
The women’s team isn’t certain about the number of players who will actually make it into the Olympics squad, but the men and women’s teams announced the final entry for the PyeongChang Olympics on Thursday.
The women’s team, led by head coach Sarah Murray, will play a friendly match against Sweden at the Incheon Asian Games Seon Hak International Ice Rink on Feb. 4, before heading into the athletes’ village on Feb. 5.
The women’s team will start a round robin against Switzerland at 9:10 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung. The team is paired in Group B with Switzerland, Sweden and Japan. However, the schedule may change depending on the result of the talks in Switzerland on Saturday.
A total of eight countries will compete for gold in women’s ice hockey.
BY KIM WON, PARK RIN AND KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]