Wednesday, August 10, 2016


In the rather complicated and obstinate situation between the countries of North and South Korea – still at war with each other but honoring an armistice or long-term cessation of hostilities – some hope of reconciliation and friendship tries to shine through for them both, especially in the realm of sports.

This sincere hope has been brought to the forefront in the present Olympic Games in Rio, when two gymnasts, Hong Un-Jong of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Lee Eun-Ju of the Republic of Korea met one another in the middle of a practice period before the gymnastics event where they would compete. Much to the amazement of onlookers and media, they quickly got into a friendly chat, all smiles and laughs.

Moments later came the money shot, for the two and the nearby photographers, as Hong and Lee stood in front of the latter’s outstretched hand holding a camera phone. It was a selfie, and dozens of cameras caught the scene live as it happened, a rare moment of North and South Korea actually being chummy, as symbolized by their athletes.

Not surprisingly, the pictures went absolutely viral within minutes of entering the social media, if Teen Vogue and Glamour would have it. Of special note is the tweet of political scientist Ian Bremmer with the picture of the gymnasts as they posed for the selfie, along with the tagline: “This is why we dothe Olympics”.

Judging by how this tweet has since broken the 18,000 re-tweet record, a great deal many people agree with the sentiment. Similar Twitter comments reinforced the original message, like “Sports brings everyone together”. In fact, some online commenters are now hailing Lee and Hong’s brief moment of belying the frosty relations between their respective countries has become the “iconic” image of the Rio Olympics.

That’s certainly quite a cheerful story to counteract several instances elsewhere in the game that did not quite reflect the ideal Olympic spirit. These include the flat refusal of Team Lebanon to ride the same bus as athletes from Israel (Their story echoes the two Koreas, being currently at a hot war on account of the greater Arab-Israeli conflict); the indignation of Chinese authorities at Australian Olympian Mark Horton, who bragged about his gold medal win over Chinese Sun Yang, a gold medalist from 2012, by disparaging him as a “drug cheat”; and American swimmer Lilly White who said pretty much the same things about her Russian competition Yuliya Efimova, who was able to join the games after a drug use suspension against her was overturned.

As for Hong Un-Jong and Lee Eun-Ju, they later competed in their event at singles gymnastics vault, where Hong advanced but Lee did not. Still, maybe the South Korean Olympic rookie will be cheering on her new veteran North Korean friend as she continues in the competition.

Photo Credit to


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