Unified team’s top scorer enjoyed the opportunityThe unprecedented journey of the joint Korean men’s handball team at the world championship may be over, but Kang Jeon-gu, the top South Korean scorer, still has his North Korean teammates on his mind.
Kang was one of 16 South Koreans on a team that also included four North Koreans. Coached by South Korean Cho Young-shin, Korea finished 22nd among 24 nations at the International Handball Federation (IHF) World Men’s Handball Championship, co-hosted by Germany and Denmark.
This was the first international appearance by a unified Korean handball team, men’s or women’s.
Kang, 28, was the leading scorer for Korea with 36 goals in seven matches in his first world championship. Kang and the rest of the unified team began their joint training in Dec. 22 in Berlin, and Kang recalled the reservations he felt about bringing in new faces.
Korea was overmatched in the stacked Group A and lost all five matches against Germany (world No. 1), Russia (No. 4), France (No. 5), Serbia (No. 6) and Brazil (No. 27).
But in the 21st-24th place semifinals Saturday, Korea defeated Japan 27-25 for its first victory.
“It would have been nice to get a win during the preliminary round, and it felt great to beat Japan, which is a team that made some progress lately,” Kang said. “It was a meaningful tournament because we had so much fun playing with North Koreans.”
Korea fell to Saudi Arabia 27-26 in the 21st-place contest in Copenhagen Sunday. And after the last match, Kang said the players signed and traded uniforms for one another as keepsakes, knowing they likely won’t meet again for the foreseeable future, if ever.
Coach Cho said Tuesday he was impressed with the emergence of Kang at the world championship. The player himself said the experience was a major boost to his confidence, adding, “I learned that I could compensate for my small stature with other skills.”