GUANGZHOU, China |
Wed Nov 24, 2010 6:51pm IST

GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) – South Korea’s Lee Min-jin stared at the chess board to plot her next move against North Korean rival Hwang Kyong-ju at the Asian Games a day after the North fired artillery shells on an island close to Seoul.

In a hushed room presided over by judges in sky-blue blazers on Wednesday, they played a round of the ancient chess game Go giving little thought to the fiercest military attack by the North on its neighbour since the Korean War ended in 1953.

“They were speaking together in the athlete’s lounge before the contest like nothing had happened,” said Kim Soh-yeon, a translator for the South Koreans outside the cloistered room.

Over the past 13 days, athletes from both sides of the 38th parallel have clashed on the wrestling ring, judo mat, archery range and football pitch at the multi-sport event.

This contest, however, between three pairs of pensive, young Korean women carried its own understated drama.

Fingering black stones from a bowl on a table adorned with flags of the two Koreas, the 26-year-old Lee thrust down the pieces on the grid-like board.

The ponytailed Hwang, the same age and dressed in ruby DPR Korea tracksuit, took more time, leaning her elbows on the table and stroking her chin before dropping her white stones down.

Rarely looking at one another, Lee, in the South’s colourful ‘Team Korea’ tracksuit and white Nike shoes, was slightly more animated, getting up to pace the room or tie her hair, while Hwang sat virtually motionless, a picture of concentration.

After nearly two hours the match was won by Lee who stopped to speak with journalists while Hwang ran off to the rest area.

Lee showed no great joy in victory, nor did she mention the worsening relations between the two Koreas, only speaking respectfully of Hwang and a technical issue over a timer.

“I had a steady game,” she said through a translator.

Popular in East Asia for its simple rules and tactical qualities, the game known as ‘weiqi’ in Chinese and ‘baduk’ in Korean is believed to have spread from China over 2,000 years ago to the Korean peninsula and Japan.

South Korea’s Cho Hye-yeon sealed the team’s victory by beating Jo Sae-byol but her 19-year-old team mate Lee Seu-la was inconsolable after losing to Kim Yu-mi.

She sobbed in the arms of her coach on another day of arm’s length contact between the people of the divided peninsula.