Skating away on the thin ice of a new day: letting go of 2002

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Skating away on the thin ice of a new day: letting go of 2002

We know who you are. You know what you did. But since you are here we should let bygones be bygones and enjoy the sheer competition that your presence brought here. You ― Apolo Anton Ohno, the famous American short-track speed skating athlete ― came to this country last weekend to participate in the Short Track World Cup.
Once upon a time his fame, or infamy, eclipsed that of Park Chan-ho, the first Korean to pitch in the Major Leagues. Everyone wanted a piece of Ohno. That is, every Korean who watched the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City had him on their we-hate-you list. It was us versus him. Many will probably remember what made Ohno Public Enemy No. 1 here in Korea once upon a time: in the 1,500-meter short track finals, South Korean Kim Dong-sung finished the race in first place, only to be disqualified by the judges for obstructing Ohno, who as a result of the disqualification won the gold medal.
At the time, Ohno threw up his hands in the air and shot a pleading look toward the referees. It was that gesture that resulted in him opting on a three-year self-imposed ban from the country, as Ohno didn’t feel safe enough to come here to compete in matches. But who could blame him? He received threats over the Internet ― and it wasn’t pretty. In a recent interview he said that The Gesture, as it has become known, was not him acting wounded but just an expression of surprise.
Ohno came here in good faith, I believe, but what he said in the interview was one sentence too long for an excuse. Had he just simply said it was a decision made by the referees, things would have been closed. As it is, for some the sour aftertaste of 2002 still lingers in the mouth.
At the time the incident triggered a massive wave of anti-American sentiment, as Korean fans criticized the judges, who were not American, for what they felt was a “gift” to the games’ host nation. Korean soccer players who faced off against the United States in the 2002 World Cup showed they had not forgotten the incident. After scoring a goal, the Korean team lined up on field to imitate The Gesture.
And the Ohno saga continued taking on its own life. When last year at the Athens Olympic Games, South Korean Yang Tae-young received a bronze medal in the men’s gymnastics all-around event due to what was later admitted to be a judging error, and Paul Hamm, who happened to be an American, was awarded the gold, quick comparisons were drawn with the Ohno incident. The media had a field day.
There are two kinds of losers: those who accept defeat and move on, and those who mull over the defeat and try others to blame for what went wrong. Personally, I still think that Kim Dong-sung deserves a gold medal. Now having said that, if we keep reminding ourselves of what happened three years ago we are only becoming bad losers, if we are not already.
When the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in October of last year against Yang Tae-young’s appeal that a scoring error cost him the gold medal, he said only, “I will do my best and win a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.” No ifs or buts. He moved on with his head held high. And so should we.


by Brian Lee

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