Revenge of Yuna, the Queen?

I am sure you have all watched the Vancouver Winter Olympics that has just ended last month. As I briefly mentioned at the end of my introduction post, I would like to open discussion on the History of Riverly between Korea and Japan with a familiar event.

Following the figure skating programmes, recently there has been an interesting article on Los Angeles Times about Yuna-Kim, South Korea's first gold medalist in olympics figure skating. The Article headline goes, "The style, the grace -- the ice-cold politics" Politics! Doesn't it sound a bit too heavy for the 19 years old girls who are just having fun with what they love to do? However, I must say, this article is quite an accurate description of the bizzard rivalry represented through sports matches.

Now let me introduce you to an excerpt from the article.

"Wearing a sassy black dress, twisting and leaping to a medley of spy thriller songs, the queen of South Korean figure skating is continuing a quest her countrymen hope is no mission impossible: Not just to win, but to beat the Japanese in the process. Kim Yuna, the pouting 19-year-old monarch-on-ice, is poised to win South Korea's
first Olympic gold medal in figure skating -- a feat that for many countrymen would prove to be a satisfying athletic and political victory over their Asian neighbors."
Indeed, the expectations on Yuna Kim was high as she was thought to be talented enough to bring a first gold medal to South Korea, defeating formidable Japanese rival of same age, Asada Mao. Even before the Olympics began, she made millions of dollars on commercials; she was more famous than any other celebrities. To South Koreans, this one particular Olympic game meant beyond a little friendly competition. It was their pride and political victory. The article continues,

"When it comes to sports competitions against Japan, their colonial-era overlords from 1910 to 1945, Koreans wear their fiercest game faces -- whether on a baseball or soccer field, or even within the graceful realm of the figure-skating rink."With South Korea versus Japan, it is all about one-sided nationalism," said Shin Kwang-yeong, sociology professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. "Of course, Japan's colonization of Korea and emotions between the two countries are instilled in sports."It's a phenomenon based on South Korea's group perception about its traumatic history. If you do not win a gold medal, other medals are not satisfying."And medals are sweeter if snatched from a Japanese competitor. "Japan is different from other competitors in the U.S. or China," Seoul taxi driver Park Byung-hee said. "There are these emotions between us. To beat Japan, our rival, is significant."

This is of absoulte truth! Japan is no ordinary competitor to Korea. Koreans do mind losing to Japan in any kind of competition. Examples can easily be found in international sports events such as World Baseball Classic, World Cup prelims and Olympics. When the game is against Japan, the sport turns into politics and fight of honor and pride on team's nationality. As professor Shin pointed out, the root of this competition partially lies on the traumas during colonial era, (일제강점기) because Korea, for the first time in her 5 milleniums of history, had her independence completely taken away by foreign aggressor. The games between Korean and Japan involve emotion and extra competition and passion. (which in fact, makes the games even more interesting and worth-watching) The article continues to explain the Japanese view in the sport games against Korea.

"By many accounts, Japanese fans are taking the Olympic figure-skating showdown no less seriously. The competition in Vancouver, Canada, grabbed more media attention Wednesday than Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda's appearance on Capitol Hill over the auto recall. "Korea already has 10 medals. Japan hasn't been able to get any gold medals. It's kind of sad. The national mood is down with this Olympics because there has been a lack of
gold medals."

Japan has been doing poorly in all of her competition with her Korean rivals. In Olympics, Japan gained no gold medal while South Korea was ranked 5th for the total number of gold medals. Even on the figure skating, their world-class skater Asada Mao could not beat her Korean rival Yuna Kim. In soccer match, Japan experienced embarrassing defeat of 3-0 to her Korean rivals. Japan's recent defeats discouraged the Japanese fans and damaged her people's pride. After the Olympics, Japanese medias criticized their own athletes for the lack of effort and ability. Silver medalist Mao changed her main coach and already announced that she will work to break Yuna's record in next Olympics.

"For Koreans, a Kim victory could go far to wash away the distaste of Olympics past. Marathoner Sohn Kee-chung was the first Korean to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But at that time, Korea was a Japanese colony and Sohn was forced to compete under a Japanese name.Now, Koreans compete as Koreans -- to the delight of their countrymen. Even North Korea sent two athletes to the Games."Whether it is baseball or figure skating, people are increasingly viewing sports in a nationalistic perspective. They think of standout athletes as a national symbol," said Shin."Particular sports are feeding these interests, and subsequently a certain fanaticism is generated."And so two nations, albeit for different reasons, will be watching closely as Kim and Asada face off for the topmost space on the medals podium."
Korea has a sad modern history; her emperor was deprived of power by Japanese colonial leaders and his wife was murdered and burned ash by Japanese police in her own palace. It is understandable that the sport matches between Korea and Japan involve more emotion and competition. However, they must also consider the atheletes who carry the burden. The nacknowledged achievements, like silver and bronze medals in Olympics, too must be given adequete applauds. Yuna Kim cried after receiving the gold medal, and Koreans cried with her out of joy. On the other hand, the Olympic staffs say Mao Asada could only cry alone after the ceremony in a quiet waiting room where no one is watching her because if she cried in public, she thought, it would enrage her people whom she has failed.

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