At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, South Korea’s Kim Dong-sung was first across the finish line in the final race of the 1,500-meter short-track skating competition, and he was already celebrating his triumph, and that of his nation, when the judges disqualified him for an illegal block and gave the gold medal to American skater Apolo Anton Ohno. In his disgust, Kim tossed South Korea’s beloved flag to the ground, creating a lasting image of national humiliation for a country exquisitely attuned to any insult, real or imagined.
Kim Dong-sung in 2002.
Though Ohno had no role in the questionable judging, he quickly became the most hated man in South Korea — our students tended to think he was far worse than Osama bin Laden. The hurt was vivid enough that when the World Cup tournament began that summer, Korean striker Ahn Jung-hwan celebrated his goal against the United States by pantomiming short-track skating, in what our kids universally called his “short-track skating ceremony.”
So last night, Jenny and I couldn’t help but root for the Korean skaters as they fought to erase the bitter memories of 2002. I put on my old Anyang FC T-shirt, and we chanted Korea’s two football cheers, “Pilsung Korea” and Taehan Minguk,” as we watched Ahn stumble and miss the final, then watched Ahn Hyun-soo and Lee Ho-suk take gold and silver in Korea’s most important event at these Olympics.
Ahn and Ohno will be back again for the 500-meter and 1,000-meter races. But for the moment, Korea is savoring its victory.