The South Korean national anthem was played for the first time at an official event in North Korea over the weekend.
South Korea’s Kim Woo-sik and Lee Young-gyun won gold and silver medals, respectively, in the junior men's weightlifting 85-kg category at the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship on Saturday at an indoor stadium in Pyongyang.
As the South Korean flag was raised to honor their medals and the national anthem was played, North Korean spectators could be seen looking at each other awkwardly, not knowing exactly how to react.
Kim and Lee were the only two athletes participating in this category, meaning that no other flags went up during the medal-giving ceremony. Initially, Lee was the only one due to compete in the category, but Kim switched from the lighter 77-kg class after North Korea said that no medals would be awarded for categories featuring just a single competitor.
Foreign media were quick to pick up on the symbolic nature of the flag-raising.
"A South Korean weightlifter heard his national anthem played Saturday after winning gold in an international competition in North Korea, an unusual development between the bitter rivals and a vivid sign of the Koreas' easing tensions after a spring of war threats," the Associated Press reported.
The Wall Street Journal described it as "the latest indication of gradually improving ties between Seoul and Pyongyang."
Some 22 athletes from seven teams in South Korea, along with 19 officials, were selected to compete in Pyongyang. As of Saturday, South Korea had collected one gold, two silver, and one bronze medal.
At the opening ceremony last Thursday, the South Korean team entered the stadium holding its national flag. This was also the first time ever that South Korean athletes have paraded their flag in the reclusive state since the peninsula was divided over half a century ago.