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Inspiration from a 1936 Korean Olympian

Posted August. 08, 2004 22:03,   


“A Korean student had easily conquered the world’s strongest legs. That Korean ran with the strength and energy of the entire continent of Asia. He ran through the blazing heat of the sun, upon harsh granite. He is now running through the last straightaway on the track. The winner Sohn is crossing the finish line…”

It was confirmed that the organizing committee of the 1936 Berlin Olympics at the time of the official stadium broadcast referred to Sohn Gi-jung as “Korean,” not “Japanese.” According to this paper’s latest information, acquired from the German Museum of History and the German Broadcast Records, Sohn was referred to as “a Korean student” and “Korean” during the live marathon coverage with 120,000 spectators.

Sohn, who participated in the Olympics during the Japanese occupation, had been officially recorded as “representing Japan, Gitei Sohn” by the Berlin Oympic Committee.

Exactly 68 years ago today, the Berlin Olympics held the marathon event, with 56 athletes representing 27 countries. Among them was the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics marathon champion Juan Carlos Zabala (Argentina), who led the race out of the stadium in Berlin. Sohn and Nam Seung-ryong were 34th and 49th, respectively. The live coverage of the marathon lasted 2 hours 40 minutes. The data retrieved by this paper was contained on an edited CD of 3 minutes 20 seconds.

“Of the five groups, the Japanese team is in the lead. They are all newcomers who have never run in the Olympics before. They are Nam, Sioaku (a Japanese runner of salt farm workman. Dropped out at the 30-km mark), and Sohn. According to the Japanese coach, in order to beat Sohn, one must run like a superman through any condition: sun, rain, stone, or grass. It is predicted that Sohn will be victorious.”

At the time, Sohn took over the lead from Zabala at the 29-km mark and never looked back. Zabala gave up at the 32 km mark. Son said, “At the time, looking back seemed cowardly and I had no choice but to run on, looking forward.”

Chang-Hee Kim Hwa-Sung Kim insight@donga.com mars@donga.com