S. Korea beats N. Korea in team table tennis
South Korea beat North Korea 3-1 in the opening round of the men's table tennis team event Saturday at the London Olympics.
South Korea's Joo Sae-hyuk, Oh Sang-eun and Ryu Seung-min were the winners over North Korea's Kim Hyok-bong, Jang song-man and Kim Song-nam. South Korea now faces Portugal in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Olympic table tennis team matches are played in a best-of-five format. The first two games are singles, the third is doubles and the final two, if necessary, are also singles. Each country carries three players.
Each individual contest is also a best-of-five affair.
This was the second inter-Korean clash in table tennis match in London. On Monday, North Korea's Kim Hyok-bong upset South Korea's Joo Sae-hyuk, ranked No. 10 in the world, to open the individual competition.
In Saturday's team clash, the two Koreas split the first two singles. After South Korea took the doubles match, Ryu, the 2004 Olympic singles champion, and Oh beat Kim Song-nam and Jang from North Korea in four games.
For the fourth match, Ryu took on the North's Kim Hyok-bong in singles. Their contest went the distance, and Ryu handily took the fifth game 11-3 to clinch the victory for South Korea.
Kim Hyok-bong blanked Oh 3-0 to open the inter-Korean showdown, but Joo evened the match score by also blanking Jang 3-0 in the second singles.
The all-Korea affair was the longest of the four team matches played Saturday, lasting just under two and a half hours.
South Korea features three top-20-ranked players, with Joo at No. 10. For North Korea, Jang is the top-ranked player at No. 59, with Kim Hyok-bong at 77th and Kim Song-nam at 181st.
Joo, his defeat to Kim Hyok-bong still fresh in his mind, said he was nervous because of the North Koreans' improved play.
"I wanted to get my revenge for the singles loss, but when Oh lost his singles match to start today, I grew even more tense," Joo said. "North Koreans are better than we'd expected. This was not an easy one for us."
Joo explained that North Korean players of the past relied on brute strength and endurance, but the current players have developed considerable skills around the net.
Ryu said he too was surprised how well Kim Hyok-bong has been playing in London so far. These two played doubles together last November in an exhibition event called Peace and Sport Cup, organized by the International Table Tennis Federation.
"Hyok-bong was on a roll, having beaten two of my teammates (Joo in individual singles earlier and Oh earlier Saturday)," Ryu said. "But I knew our players had more international experience and that we could beat them if we just played our game."
Both Joo and Ryu said they exchanged small talk with North Korean players before the match, but in Joo's words, "It's not like what it used to be." Ryu admitted that playing North Koreans can put extra burden on South Koreans but added, "We can overcome that with our play on the court."
The Koreas competed as one nation at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan and won the women's team title. But with inter-Korean ties having deteriorated in recent years, sports exchange between the countries has virtually stopped. They marched in under a unified Korean flag at the opening ceremonies for the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics, but haven't organized a joint march since.
At the London Olympics, South Korea has 245 athletes competing in 22 sports, while North Korea has 56 in 11 sports. Through Friday, South Korea ranked third in the gold medal tally with nine, and North Korea, powered by weightlifters, was eighth with four gold medals. (LONDON=Yonhap)