10 Jan. 2019
After the IHF announced back in June 2018 that it sought a unified team Korea (COR) to play at the 26th IHF Men’s World Championship, that team becomes reality later today in Berlin, Germany, when the newly-formed team takes on co-hosts Germany at the sold-out 14,800-capacity Mercedes-Benz Arena in Group A.
The unified team Korea at Germany/Denmark 2019 was confirmed in October last year when both the Handball Association of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Korea Handball Federation accepted the invitation and since late December the team has been busy preparing in the German capital city as it prepares to highlight just how much ‘handball unites us’.
The delegation of the unified team has been keeping an online diary of their experience so far in Europe starting from Friday 21 December when the Republic of Korea (KOR) delegation arrived late in Berlin, following a one-day delay in Paris, France en route.
The next morning senior leaders greeted the arrival of the delegation from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (PRK), which included four players who play their club handball for the Korean Naval Academy.
Getting to know each other through sport
After initial meetings, handball quickly took over with the first-ever training session of the unified team Korea later on that afternoon at the Horst-Korber-Sportzentrum in the Berlin Olympic Park.
Over the next few weeks the players got to know each other as coach Young Shin Cho, assisted by Myong Chol Sin, took up the intensity, tactical and physical levels to World Championship standard.
A nearby Korean restaurant has provided warm reminders of home for all the delegation throughout the past three weeks – including a birthday celebration for pivot Changeun Ku on 23 December – while the delegation were also able to be part of the traditional European festive of Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, complete with fireworks show in the German capital.
Visits from the German Ambassador to the United Nations, South and North Korea Ambassadors to Germany and many other guests were received with the training and preparation period ending with games against German 3. Liga sides Vfl Potsdam and Oranienburger HC on the 5th and 7th of January.
The day before the match against Vfl Potsdam, the unified team Korea conducted an open training session with media with German public broadcasters, Sky Sport and over 30 other media in attendance with help from professional interpreters from the Berlin Handball Association and Korean Cultural Centre in Berlin.
The historic first game saw Korea defeat Potsdam, before a narrow loss against Oranienburger HC – both in front of a sold-out crowd of over 1,000 spectators each at the MBS Arena, Potsdam.
And tonight, in the historic match at the sold-out Mercedes-Benz Arena in front of IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa and IOC President Dr Thomas Bach, as well as the German Federal President and over 250 official guests from both Korean countries – the first competitive handball match from a unified Korea team will be staged in the historic city, close to the former Berlin Wall.
The match of their lives
“For the clubs involved it was the event of the year for them,” said Alex Gehrer, who organised the training camp on behalf of the German Handball Federation for Korea.
“The two clubs were so happy to play unified Korea who played beautiful handball, complete with in-flights and great skills - from the very first moment of the matches it was a very special atmosphere - the main thing they asked us before arriving was training opportunities, so we provided two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon for every day.
“The two sets of players and coaching staff met for the first time at the airport on 22 December and you could really feel from both sides it was an historical moment and everybody was so excited about it – the leaders from the Korea Republic delegation wanted to be at the airport to greet those from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and were filming and taking photos at arrivals – the airport security said they couldn’t take photos there due to security, but once they explained why, the security understood the moment and allowed them!
“For me, having the unified Korea team here in the reunified city of Berlin is very special for me and, now, after two weeks everyone is smiling together - my message to them is to just have fun and have the match of your life.”