There’s already all sorts of bad behavior by athletes at the Olympics, with the Lebanese team not allowing the Israeli athletes on the bus, a report that a Saudi judo athlete (judist?) forfeited his match rather than face an Israeli athlete (the Saudis say it was an injury), literal finger-wagging by American swimmers towards Russian swimmers accused of illegal drug usage, and now an Australian swimmer calling his Chinese opponent a “drug cheat.” It’s the Olympics, Jake: keep your bad behavior and moralism to yourself.
But here’s a moment that at least brings a frisson of pleasure: a North Korean and South Korean gymnast posing for a selfie! Now that’s something completely unexpected.
From The Guardian we see Lee Eun-ju of South Korea (right, age 17) and Hong Un-jong of North Korea (left, age 27) taking a selfie while practicing before the competition began. Un-jong was the first medal-winner in women’s gymnastics from North Korea, nabbing a gold in the vault in the 2008 Beijing games. (Although old for a gymnast, she has a new vault that could earn her a second gold.) Eun-ju is considerably younger, and I can imagine that the North Korean is a bit of a hero to her.
The North Koreans are unarguably the most oppressed people on the planet, starved and ordered about by their odious leaders, and taught from birth to hate South Koreans, Americans, and almost everybody else. They have no access to internet, and listening to international radio is a serious crime. No other nation on Earth is so deliberately isolated from the rest of the world.
There’s nothing we can do to help them save push for sanctions or rekindle the war (which is technically still ongoing); the latter would kill many in both North and South. If only there were a way. . .
But the picture shows a spirit of the young that transcends this division. Sadly, the DPRK is dedicated to snuffing out that spirit, and perhaps Un-jong might even be sanctioned after returning to the North. But if anything exemplifies what the Olympics are supposed to be, it’s this photo.