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Korea women's hockey coach Sarah Murray doesn't flinch in face of adversity

Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- By nature, coaches tend to be control freaks. They want to know everything happening within their team, however trivial it might seem. So they usually hate surprise developments.

Imagine then Sarah Murray's predicament. Not only did she get a whale of a surprise right before the start of the Olympics, but that surprise attracted international scrutiny because of its sensitive political nature.

That's a lot to unload on a 29-year-old coach still relatively new to the business.

"We feel strangely calm given everything that is going on," Murray said.

The Minnesota native who starred on two national championship teams at Minnesota Duluth has overseen South Korea's women's hockey for four years. She has spent four long years planning, teaching the game, building chemistry. She poured her heart into the program so that her team can have a respectable showing in its Olympic debut as the host country.

Then came 11th-hour chaos out of her control.

Mere weeks before the Opening Ceremony, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that he would send a delegation of 22 athletes to the Olympics, 12 of them women's hockey players, in a deal brokered by political leaders and approved by the International Olympic Committee.

The rapprochement agreement mandates that three North Korean players are in the lineup every game.

The agreement gave Murray little time to figure things out while also being forced to confront a situation that caused backlash inside South Korea. She was dealt a tough hand.

"Our team being put together was a political statement, but now that the team is together, we are just one team," Murray said after practice Wednesday. "Now it is hockey and we are here to compete. It is not an issue on our team."

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