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[Opinion] Thinking of Dear Leader While Competing

Posted August. 14, 2008 06:32,   


Soccer player Pak Do Ik, 70, judo world champion Kye Sun Hui, 29, and female marathoner Chong Song Ok, 34. These North Korean sports stars are even known to South Koreans. Chong was named "Heroine of the Republic" by winning the IAAF World Championships in Spain in 1999. Despite winning North Korea’s first Olympic gold in judo and four world titles, Kye has not received the North’s prestigious award.

The difference lies in Chong’s speaking skills. Right after winning the world title, she said, “At the finish line, our general [Kim Il Sung] waved at me, calling up my strength. That was how I could keep my pace.” Preparing for its national foundation day (Sept. 9), North Korea mobilized one million citizens to welcome Chong, and leader Kim Jong Il wrote a personal letter to her praising her heroic act. Alleging that the Taepodong missile it fired one year prior to the event was a satellite, Pyongyang dubbed her feat the second launch of a satellite using the force of "juche (self-reliance." Along with the honor of heroine, Chong received a luxurious apartment in Pyongyang, a Mercedes Benz and the status of state representative.

North Korean weightlifter Pak Hyon Suk, 23, won the gold medal in the women’s 63-kilograms, attributing her glory to the “general” as well. Pulling out an unexpected win by lifting 135 kilograms on her third attempt, Pak said, “I felt that our great general was watching me. That was how I could lift it at the last moment.” Pak simply took a page out of Chong’s book, winning North Korea’s first Olympic gold since Kye did so in 1996. This event falls on the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s foundation, so Pak will probably enjoy the same perks and status as Chong.

In an interview with a North Korean newspaper after giving birth, Chong said, “I kept looking at the watch my boyfriend personally wrapped around my wrist. That’s what really motivated me.” So did she lie when she praised the general? Not necessarily. The phrase “Thank you, General” seems to have become a ritual verse for North Koreans, and they recite it when good things happen. No wonder a number of outsiders deem the communist country as a surrealistic society or a cult.

Editorial Writer Kim Chang-hyeok (chang@donga.com)