Late Recognition for Korean Olympic Athlete Sohn Kee-chung

      December 16, 2011 13:35

      Sohn Kee-chung, who won gold in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was the first Korean to win an Olympic gold medal but had to stand on the podium in a uniform bearing the Japanese flag, since Korea was occupied at the time. But now the International Olympic Committee has belatedly highlighted his real nationality in a profile of the athlete on its official website.

      The profile site shows a photo of Sohn wearing a laurel wreath. It is captioned "Kitei Son," his Japanese name, and still gives Japan as the country he represented. But a new menu bar titled "more about the athlete" corrects that information.

      The previous version of the site already explained that Sohn was a Korean athlete who had to race for Japan but added he carried the Korean flag at the 1948 London Olympics and the torch during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But the new profile refers to him from the start as "Sohn Kee-chung of Korea" who "set a world marathon record of 2:26:42.0." There is also an account why he ran for Japan under a different name.

      The IOC said in the profile, "Sohn, a fervent nationalist, always signed his Korean name in Berlin, and whenever he was asked where he was from, he made it a point to explain that Korea was a separate nation."

      Since the 1980s, the Korean Olympic Committee has called on the IOC to change his nationality and name. The IOC Executive Board discussed the matter in 1987, a year before the Seoul Olympics, but rejected the request. But Korea kept up its efforts and sent another letter to the IOC on Nov. 29 this year. On Dec. 9, Christophe De Kepper, the director general of the IOC Executive Board, sent a response pledging to make changes to reflect Sohn’s accomplishments and clearly explain the historical background. But the IOC said changing his nationality and registered name when he competed is not possible since it could distort history.

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