A combined Koreas team reinforced by WNBA center Park Ji-su reached the women’s basketball final at the Asian Games after beating Taiwan 89-66 on Thursday.
The team, featuring three North Koreans and nine players from the South, will take on China for the gold medal after overturning their two-point overtime loss to Taiwan in the group stage with victory when it counted.
China beat Japan 86-74 in the second of the semifinals. There are big expectations on the Koreas team to win gold, and the combined squad is one win away.
There were also huge expectations on India to retain the field hockey gold medal, particularly after outscoring rivals 76-3 in the group stage, but that defense ended in a shootout loss to Malaysia.
The Malaysians scored an equalizer with less than two minutes to play and then sealed a spot in the final with a 7-6 win in the shootout. Pakistan was playing Japan in the second semifinal.
Dragon boat races delivered the first medals for the combined Koreas teams, including the first gold, and the basketball team is guaranteed gold or silver. The South Koreans are defending champions and have been bolstered by players from the North.
Park Ji-su joined the group after completing her season with the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA and made her first court appearance in the second quarter. She finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
North Korean Ro Suk Yong, captain Lim Yung-hui and Park Hye-jin all had 17 points each.
“This is a result that everyone achieved by playing together with one goal and one spirit,” Ro was quoted as saying by Yonhap, the South Korean news agency.
“Their support gives me lots of energy,” Ro said of the supporters who waved the “unification” flag and chanted for the Koreas. “As we stay united, we went to the final. It makes me emotional.”
The Koreas also have joint teams in rowing and canoeing, where the dragon boats earned a gold and two bronze.
At the medal ceremony for the champion women in the 500-meter dragon boat race, the folk song “Arirang” played instead of the official national anthem for North Korea or South Korea, and the flag raised was the “unification” one, which features the outline of the Korean peninsula in blue on a white background.
The medals were awarded to Korea — the name for the joint teams — rather than being added to the tally of either North or South Korea.
The Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, have fielded 60 athletes in combined teams in the three sports, beside larger contingents for their respective national squads.
In the first of 10 finals on the last day of track and field competition, Japan’s Hayato Katsuki won the 50-kilometer walk. Wang Qin of China was three minutes back in second place, and South Korea’s Joo Hyun-myeong took bronze.