JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The combined Koreas women’s basketball team reached the Asian Games final, giving one of the sentimental favorites a chance at a historic gold medal.
A favorite in another sport won’t get the chance at gold, though, after defending field hockey champion India was upset later Thursday in a shootout against Malaysia.
The setback for India was cushioned slightly by more gold medals in track and field, where the Indian team finished behind only China and Bahrain in one of the surprising stories of the games.
The feel-good story undoubtedly has been the joint squad of nine South Koreans and three players from North Korea who will play for gold against China in women’s hoops.
Unlike the joint Koreas women’s hockey team that won plenty of hearts but no games at the Olympics in Pyeongchang six months ago, this joint team had been expected to be a medal contender — considered the most likely in the three sports in which the war-separated countries fielded combined teams.
Reinforced by WNBA center Park Ji-su, the Koreas team beat Taiwan 89-66 in the semifinals to avenge a two-point loss in their group game. China beat Japan 86-74 in the second of the semifinals.
Dragon boat races delivered a gold medal and two bronze medals for the combined Koreas teams — the first ever at a major multi-sports international event — and the basketball team is guaranteed gold or silver.
Park joined the combined team after completing her season with the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA and finished the game with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
North Korean player Ro Suk Yong, captain Lim Yung-hui and Park Hye-jin had 17 points apiece.
“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. “As we stay united, we went to the final. It makes me emotional.”
The medals in dragon boat 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 canoeing, rowing and basketball, besides larger contingents for their respective national squads.
South Korea was in third place in the medal standings after 389 events and North Korea was ninth, both well behind China, which had 111 gold medals and 239 overall. Japan was second with 59 gold and 174 in total.
Unlike their dominance in the pool, China and Japan had plenty of competition in track and field, where China narrowly topped the standings.
China and Bahrain were level in terms of gold — with 12 each — but China was ahead 33-25 overall.
India finished third with seven track gold medals and 19 overall — one ahead of Japan on both counts.
In the last event, the men’s 4×400-meter relay, Qatar won in a continental record 3 minutes, 0.56 seconds from India and Japan.
Jinson Johnson of India won the 1,500, and the country’s 4×400 women’s relay, including world junior champion Hima Das, extended a streak of Asian Games gold in the event stretching back to 2002.
Japan, the 2016 Olympic silver medalists, won the men’s 4×100 relay in 38.16. Surprisingly it was an Indonesia team featuring world junior 100-meter champion Lalu Muhammad Zohri which delighted the crowd by finishing with silver ahead of China.
Bahrain won three gold medals on the last night of track, with 100- and 200-meter champion Edidiong Odiong anchoring victory in the women’s 4×100 relay in a games record 42.73.
Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan, the 2012 Olympic champion, won her third straight Asian Games title in the triple jump.
The men’s field hockey final was expected to be an India-Pakistan classic, but they’ll be playing for bronze. Malaysia rallied to win 7-6 in a shootout after finishing 2-2 with India, and Japan edged Pakistan 1-0 in the other semifinal. The winner here gets a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
A China team featuring NBA players Zhou Qi and Ding Yanyuhang will play the men’s basketball final against Iran, which beat defending champion South Korea. (John Pye, AP)