22 December 2003

Koreans in Olympic Marathons

In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals for the U.S., two Korean marathon runners, Sohn Kee-chung and Nam Sung-yong, brought home gold and bronze medals for Japan while running on the Japanese team under their Japanized names, Son Kitei and Nan Shoryu. Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and occupied it until 1945.
When the Korean Dong-A Ilbo newspaper printed a photograph of Son after his performance, it erased the image of the Japanese flag that was on Son's uniform. This action resulted in the governor general of Korea banning publication of the paper and arresting its president, as well as expelling organs of public opinion.
Sohn went on to chair several Korean sports organizations and was among those who carried the Olympic flame at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Although his medal is still credited to Japan by both the IOC and Japan OC, Sohn lived to see the sweet day, 56 years after Berlin, when his countryman Hwang Young-cho made history in the marathon that capped the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, by outlasting Japan's Koichi Morishita after they doggedly traded the lead again and again during the long plod up the slopes of Montjuic.

Sohn died in November 2002 at the age of 90.

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