Torino reprise: Mano y mano on the ice rinkIt's deja vu. Revenge is sweet. It's payback time.
Apolo Anton Ohno, the U.S. short track speed skater, will face off against South Koreans at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. May his legs turn into spaghetti. Well, that's as far as I am willing to go. I won't fire off death threats over the Internet and won't plaster my blog with Ohno's picture next to that of Osama bin Laden.
We all know what once made Ohno the most hated man in this country. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, raising his arms and drawing the attention of the referee he finished behind Kim Dong-sung, who was then disqualified, in the 1,500 race. As a result, Ohno took home the gold. I still think it was bad acting taking home the Oscar but that does not mean the results will change. The ref makes that call. I don't. And we should have left it at that. Instead, the media spun the story. Anti-U.S. sentiment and the fact that Ohno is half Japanese caused the whole shebang to be magnified out of proportion. For the next few years Ohno didn't visit South Korea because he felt it was unsafe. Shame on us.
On Sunday, a showdown between Ohno and South Korean skaters didn't take place at the very event that earned him infamy here. But it might happen at other races to come. He is a serious medal contender and is said to be the main obstacle standing in South Korea's way of dominating the short track speed skating events. That is why after 2002 we are seeing him again. Because he is that good.
Short track speed skating was and always will be a sport with controversy. With no clear lane markers the athletes have some freedom to battle opponents for positions, and on a short 111-meter oval-shaped circuit, athletes always get tangled up, some fall taking others with them and suddenly an unexpected guy wins the race. There is always this tension that something might happen, and this is exactly the part of the sport that makes it so interesting ― the unpredictability that lurks around the corner.
Now, what if something happens that involves Ohno and a South Korean skater? It should not. Because the moment it does there will be such an outcry here that it will make soccer hooligans pale in comparison. And then all reason will be swept away by the emotion because we are dealing with Ohno. How can we forgive a culprit who got away once. Right? Wrong. Every game has its up and downs. Calls by the refs go either way and there will always be a loser. It's all part of the game.
Last time, Kim Dong-sung threw down the national flag in disgust when he heard he was disqualified. This time, regardless of what happens, South Korean skaters should go to Ohno and shake hands. A friendly pat on the shoulder will do too. It will help a great deal in eliminating whatever negative sentiment towards Ohno is left here. And it would also give a signal to others. Who is not nationalistic when it comes to international competition? The question is when to draw a line between game time emotions and reasonless hatred.
Years ago when I wrote a column in which I jokingly said if Ohno comes here he would be a "dead man walking," some foreign media outlets jumped on the opportunity, using the phrase to portray Korea as bloodthirsty even though the column's purpose was exactly the opposite. Let's hope this does not happen again.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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