Sohn Kee-chung & Nam Sung-yong
Now that the Tokyo Olympics is underway, let’s talk about Olympic medalists Sohn Kee-chung (손기정) and Nam Sung-yong (남승룡) - who were forced to compete under the Japanese flag during the 1936 Olympics.
As you may know, Japan was an imperial power during WWII and colonized Korea (as well as many other countries). Sohn Kee-chung and Nam Sung-yong were ethnic Koreans who were forced to change their names to Son Kitei and Nan Shoryu so they could compete as “Japanese” athletes.
Sohn won the gold in the marathon and Nam won bronze, but as you can tell from the awards ceremony photos, neither were happy about their victory as they had to stand in front of the world not as Koreans but as Japanese subjects.
Sohn specifically used the laurel plant he received as gold medalist to hide the Japanese flag on his chest. Nam recalled being jealous of Sohn - not because he won gold - but because he had something to cover the flag with. You can see Nam clenching his fist in photos instead.
Sohn was forced to give a victory speech that was pre-written for him praising the Japanese Empire. You can listen to a record here. Around the 2:39 mark - you can hear a voice threatening Sohn: “Louder. Read louder.”
Unable to celebrate his win, Sohn sent a postcard to a friend post-match that simply read: “I am sad.”
Korean newspapers Dong-A Ilbo (동아일보) and Joseon Joong-Ang Ilbo (조선중앙일보) edited out the Japanese flag when reporting on Sohn and Nam’s wins. The Japanese government responded by arresting Korean journalists and putting Sohn under surveillance.
Both Sohn and Nam have repeatedly asked to be remembered as Korean athletes, not Japanese ones. But to this day, official Olympics records still use Japanese names and the Japanese flag for them.
In fact, the JOC has been introducing Sohn and 8 other Koreans as “Japanese” athletes in order to promote Tokyo 2020. These athletes competed under the Japanese flag not by choice, but by imperialist force.
There have been many attempts to fix this. Noted example is Korean politician Park Young Rok who visited Germany for the 1970 Olympics and broke into the Berlin Olympic Stadium at night to fix Sohn’s country to Korea. He fled to Korea with the letters J-A-P-A-N in hand.
In the beginning the Japanese national team wanted to kick Sohn and Nam out because they did not want to show the world that Koreans were better than Japanese athletes. When Sohn and Nam ranked 1st and 2nd respectively in the Olympic trials, they demanded a retrial in Berlin and added TWO more Japanese runners in hopes of disqualifying Sohn and Nam. Some of the Japanese players actually left the course and tried to take shortcuts to beat them. Sohn and Nam noticed this while running and swore that they would beat them no matter what.