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Friday, September 15
Two Koreas, one flag in ceremonies


SYDNEY, Australia -- Divided for more than a half century by the Cold War, athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind one flag for the first time in the Olympics at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Games.

The march Friday brought the capacity crowd of 110,000 at Olympic Stadium to its feet and highlighted the International Olympic Committee's efforts to promote peace through sports.

Pak Jung Chul and Chung Eun-Sun
Two Koreas marched under one flag in the opening ceremonies.

"It was a good show of unity to the world," said Chung Eun-sun, a star basketball player who served as the South Korean delegation's flag-bearer. The North's flag-bearer was Pak Jung Chul, a judo coach.

"I was deeply moved," said Yun Sung Bom, North Korea's chief delegate. "I hope this mood will continue."

Kim Young-ho, a South Korean fencer who was part of the combined delegation of 180, said he felt "proud of being Korean" and said he hoped it would lead to both Koreas agreeing to form a unified team for the next Olympics.

That proved too much to ask just yet -- despite the joint entry, the countries will still compete under separate flags in Sydney. There are about 400 athletes and officials here from South Korea, but only 61 from the North.

The small North Korean contingent reflects the impoverished country's dire economic realities. The North has been relying on outside aid since 1995 to feed its 22 million people.

Its athletes seemed to welcome the brief detente.

The Koreans mixed freely even before the march, arriving at the stadium aboard the same buses and in identical uniforms -- dark blue jackets and beige pants.

Even in unified uniforms, there was a difference: The North Koreans all wore lapel pins with the image of their late Communist leader, Kim Il Sung.

The Koreans drew thunderous applause from the capacity crowd when they marched into the stadium, many holding hands together and waving. IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and other dignitaries stood up.

Led by the two sides' national Olympic chiefs -- Kim Un-yong from South Korea and Chang Ung from North Korea -- the athletes walked behind a large unification flag, without their national flags and names. The name of the countries was simply "Korea."

The unification flag bears a blue image of the Korean Peninsula on a white background. The Koreas formed unified teams for the world table-tennis and youth soccer championships in 1991, but have never marched together at the Olympics.

In fact, the Korea march was the first among athletes of a divided country since East and West Germany allowed their athletes to walk side by side during the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

The Koreas were partitioned into the communist North and the pro-Western South in 1945. They fought a three-year war in the early 1950s and never signed a peace treaty. They share the world's most heavily armed border, with nearly 2 million troops deployed on both sides.

But their relations have warmed dramatically since their leaders met for the first time in the North's capital, Pyongyang, in June and agreed to work together for reconciliation and unification.


 

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