OLYMPICS/ IOC approves Korean spelling for 1936 marathon champ

December 20, 2011

By KUNIHIKO ODA / Staff Writer

Seventy-five years after winning an Olympic gold medal, a former marathon champion has scored another victory of sorts.

Sohn Kee-chung was a Korean runner who won the 1936 Berlin Olympics marathon running under the Japanese flag. Due to Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula at the time, Sohn was also forced to compete under the Japanese spelling of his name, Kitei Son.

That name had been in the official record books for years, but recently the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed to change the spelling to his Korean name, Sohn Kee-chung, although his nationality would still be listed as Japanese.

On its official website listing Olympic medalists, the IOC now has Sohn Kee-chung as the winner of the 1936 Olympic marathon in Berlin.

According to South Korean media, the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) had been asking the IOC for a change in Sohn's spelling and nationality in the Olympic record books since the 1980s. Late last month, the KOC sent a document again requesting the changes, and the IOC approved in part, agreeing to change the spelling of Sohn's name, but not his nationality.

In 1935, Sohn ran a world record at the time of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 42 seconds in the marathon. He won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympics the following year, but showed no joy during the medal ceremony, looking down at his feet most of the time.

The South Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo posted a photo of Sohn's medal ceremony with the Japanese flag on his uniform blacked out. Japanese colonial officials temporarily suspended the daily's operations because of its actions.

The IOC website explained how the Korean-born Sohn had no choice but to represent Japan at the 1936 Olympics due to Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Sohn's son, Sohn Jeong-in, a 68-year-old Yokohama resident, was moved by the IOC's decision.

"It's inevitable that (my father's) nationality couldn't be changed (on IOC records) because of the colonization," said Sohn Jeong-in. "But the man who ran the marathon was a Korean. I'm overjoyed that this fact was finally recognized."

Sohn died in 2002 at the age of 90.

By KUNIHIKO ODA / Staff Writer
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Sohn Kee-chung crosses the finish line in the men's marathon at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Sohn Kee-chung crosses the finish line in the men's marathon at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Sohn Kee-chung crosses the finish line in the men's marathon at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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