[SPORTS VIEW]A marathon man is laid to rest, fitfully

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[SPORTS VIEW]A marathon man is laid to rest, fitfully

A national sports hero, Sohn Kee-chung, died last week at age 90. Just as sad is that he left this life without complete satisfaction. Mr. Sohn won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He ran for the Japanese national team because Korea was under colonial rule at the time.

Many people mourn Mr. Sohn's death. He was buried at Daejeon National Cemetery with all the pomp you would expect for a national great.

I spent much of my childhood in Berlin, where my parents were studying. When I was in the third grade, my parents took me and my grandmother, who was visiting, to the Berlin Olympic Stadium. Because I was so young, I didn't know that I was in a historic place. Another thing I didn't realize was the injustice that was still being done to Mr. Sohn. At the stadium was a stone plaque on which the names of the winners of the Berlin Games were engraved. Mr. Sohn's name was there, eighth from the top. Beside the names were the country the athletes represented; next to Mr. Sohn's name was not the country of his birth, but Japan.

At least one attempt has been made to rectify that affront. In the summer of 1970, three Koreans -- a lawmaker, Park Yeong-rok, his wife, and a young student at the Free University of Berlin, Lee Joo-sung -- set the record straight. They removed "Japan" from the plaque and, with hammer and chisel, carved "Korea." After their stunt they called a reporter and proudly announced what they had done. The police began an investigation for destruction of property, but all three left the country safely within a couple of days of their feat. Nevertheless, three months later, "Japan" was back beside Mr. Sohn's name on the plaque.

In Korea there is an old saying that goes: Upon death, a tiger leaves his fur behind while a human leaves his name. Sohn Kee-chung left his good name, but he never wanted to have "Japan" next to it. He tried himself to have the plaque corrected; he even traveled to Berlin in the late 1950s to plead his case. I don't know the technical issues involved. The matter needs to be resolved before everyone who remembers those days passes away.

Back to modern times, Korea's best 11 from the World Cup got together to play Ronaldo & Co. on Thursday. Although Brazil left with a 3-2 win, the tight match was proof that the national team can play at a very high level. All the goals that Korea scored were created by clean chances. The first goal, by Seol Ki-hyeon, was the conversion of a set play, while the second, put in by Ahn Jung-hwan, came from a deflected shot.

The strong point of the local guys is their team play. It was conspicuously apparent that they lacked a dominant star who can put the ball into the net, like Brazil has in Ronaldo. At the end of the day, it is fair to say that Brazil played the way it was supposed to and Korea played the way it can if things go the right way.

The best thing, though, is that the game was televised in Spain and Italy -- two countries whose World Cup teams fell to Korea in last June's tournament. Both countries doubted the Koreans' talent, but now should acknowledge that Korea's wins were not flukes.

by Brian Lee

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