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North Carolina player ready to skate for historic Korean hockey team at Winter Olympics

William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Olympics

WASHINGTON -- Randi Griffin knew she was doing something unique when she left North Carolina to play ice hockey for South Korea's national women's hockey program.

Griffin, a 29-year-old from Apex, N.C., is poised to be part of Olympic history as a member of a unified South and North Korea women's hockey team that will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics next month in Pyeongchang. It's the first time that the countries will play together in one sport in the Games.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announced Saturday that the unified women's team will be formed by adding 12 North Koreans to South Korea's existing 23-player roster.

The move is part of a breakthrough deal hammered out in Switzerland. North Korea will send 22 athletes -- 15 women and seven men -- to compete in ice hockey, figure skating, short track speedskating and cross-country and alpine skiing.

The women's hockey team will skate under a unification flag and compete as Korea, dropping the geographical designations of each country.

"This was not an easy journey," IOC President Thomas Bach said in Switzerland, adding that "I'm sure it will be a very emotional moment, not just for all Koreans but also the entire world."

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Awaiting the decision to combine the Korean hockey teams caused some uneasy moments for Griffin. She first heard about the plan for unification Wednesday, hours before she boarded a plane to return to South Korea after a brief visit to the United States.

"Honestly, I have no idea what that means for our roster, particularly for players like myself who are dual citizens and might not fit into to this unified Korean narrative," she said at the time.

Those fears faded Saturday for Griffin, a former Harvard University forward who started playing hockey growing up in the Raleigh area.

"My mother was really into figure skating, so she decided she wanted her daughters to try that," Griffin said. "I never liked figure skating and in 1998, I was 10 years old, that was the first time women's hockey was in the Olympics. I remember watching that and telling my mom 'That's what I want to do.' So I switched to hockey at that point and then grew up playing with boys in the Carolina area."

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