Classes in Olympic spirit from ‘Japan’s’ Korean gold medallist dwell on

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YOKOHAMA — Lengthy earlier than American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos made historical past with their Black Energy salute on the 1968 Olympics, one other poignant picture of silent protest was etched into the conscience of Koreans – and largely forgotten all over the place else.

On the Berlin Olympics in 1936, Korean Sohn Kee-chung stood together with his head hung, hiding the rising-sun flag on his chest with a laurel plant as Japan’s nationwide anthem crammed the stadium to honor his marathon victory. The second crammed him with “insufferable humiliation,” he recounted in his autobiography, and marked the start of an anguished chapter in his life.


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Anxious that his triumph would spark an insurgence amongst ethnic Koreans, Japan – which dominated Korea from 1910 to 1945 – forbade Sohn from aggressive operating, saved him below tight surveillance, and even used his celebrated standing to recruit younger Koreans for its battle effort. Sohn known as the recruiting the “best remorse” of his life.

Nonetheless, Sohn harbored no resentment towards his former oppressors in later years and devoted his life to selling “Olympism” – or peace by sports activities – significantly between Japan and Korea, his son, Chung-in, informed Reuters in a latest interview.

“All he wished for was for either side to acknowledge what occurred previously so we don’t repeat it, and as a substitute look ahead,” he mentioned.



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With bilateral relations at a nadir at this time, largely over wartime atrocities, Sohn’s message stays related, mentioned Zenichi Terashima, professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Meiji College, who printed the runner’s biography two years in the past.

For all of Sohn’s efforts at reconciliation, Japan has had a clumsy relationship with him and his legacy, Terashima mentioned, talking alongside his son.

Sohn is a nationwide hero in South Korea, however few in Japan have heard of him, although his medal stays the one Olympic gold for the lads’s marathon in Japan.

Solely an eagle-eyed customer to the brand new Olympic museum in Tokyo will discover each mentions of Sohn: one amongst a show of Japanese gold medallists and one other in a tiny signal accompanying the Olympic torch used within the Seoul Video games in 1988 describing him as the ultimate torch relay runner.


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“He’s an uncomfortable subject in Japan,” mentioned Terashima, who mentioned he felt compelled to publish Sohn’s life story amid what he perceived as a resurgence of historic revisionism amongst Japan’s conservative elite.


Sohn scrupulously prevented politics and prolonged an olive department wherever he noticed an opportunity.

When Japanese runner Shigeki Tanaka gained the Boston marathon in 1951, Sohn despatched him a congratulatory message, calling his win “a win for Asia,” his son mentioned. He signed off utilizing the Japanese transliteration of his identify – Son Kitei – a profound gesture from a person who insisted on signing autographs in Korean even in 1936.

It ought to have been a bitter second. The earlier yr, Sohn had coached the Korean workforce that swept first, second and third locations on the marquee race, solely to be denied entry in 1951 because the Korean Warfare raged.


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At Seoul 1988, Sohn had secretly deliberate to present a reproduction of the traditional Corinthian helmet given to him as Berlin’s marathon winner to a Japanese runner in the event that they gained a medal, his son recalled.

Sohn was ecstatic about Japan and South Korea’s co-hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, instructing his son to assist make it successful so “the previous could possibly be left previously for a recent begin,” Chung-in mentioned. Sohn died a number of months after the occasion.

The thaw in bilateral ties proved short-lived, however “my father died a contented man,” Chung-in mentioned.

The present diplomatic chill has spilled over into the Olympics within the type of a territorial dispute over the labeling of a set of islands – each on the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018 and this yr.


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However Terashima says the “Olympism” that Sohn superior thrives within the activism of Naomi Osaka at this time and the borderless bonds shared by speedskaters Nao Kodaira and Lee Sang-hwa, whose emotional embrace after their race at Pyeongchang, draped within the Japanese and Korean flags, moved many on either side of the ocean

“My father preferred to say that in battle, whether or not you win or lose, if a bullet hits you, you die,” Chung-in mentioned. “However that in sports activities, even if you happen to lose, you’ll be able to nonetheless be mates.” (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim. Enhancing by Gerry Doyle)


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