Past Olympics Athletes >> Kee-Chung Sohn

Kee-Chung Sohn

Kee-Chung Sohn

Date of birth





World record


Olympic Games (1 medal - 1 gold)

  • 1st (1936)

Bittersweet symphony for Sohn in Berlin

The amazing story of an unwillingly renamed marathon runner who won gold in the Olympic Games in 1936 is one that, essentially, only politics can explain.

As a Korean whose country had been occupied by Japanese forces for many years, Sohn Kee Chung was forced to participate under his new name of Kitei Son.

What should have been a celebration victory was one tinged with sadness as Sohn ascended the podium to accept Japan's gold medal, his head bowed in protest at the raising of the Japanese flag and playing of the Japanese anthem.

His compatriot, Nam Seung-yong, third in the race, joined him in a silent protest on the winners' podium.

Born on August 29, 1914 in a small countryside village, he began his running career carrying out daily chores for his family, and from an early age it became clear he was destined for the running track.

As a teenager at school in Seoul his effortless ability to run for long periods and with pace did not go unnoticed. His forte was soon established and he began to concentrate on his talents.

After recording the world's fastest time (2:26.42) at the age of 21, Sohn prepared himself for his historic assault on the Olympic marathon in 1936.


It would be years later before Sohn's athletic and moral achievement was given true recognition - this time in Korea's colours.

He had a stint as president of the South Korean athletics Federation and was also a member of the South Korean Olympic Committee.

He was given the honour of carrying the South Korean flag into the opening ceremony of the 1948 Games, his country's first as an independent nation.

But the tears did not flow fully until, forty years later, Sohn was given the honour of running into Seoul's Olympic stadium with the torch held aloft.

Dancing and running as if to re-invent his victory in 1936, Sohn was finally given the glory he deserved, and brought a nation, carried along on the wave of emotion, to its knees.

"Now, I can die without any regrets," he whispered.

He passed away in November, 2002 at the age of 90 in Seoul. However Japan refused to hand over his medal to South Korea claiming that Sohn was part of their delegation during the time of his victory.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.


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