Sohn Kee-chung

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Sohn.
Sohn Kee-chung
KC Sohn.jpg
1936 Berlin Olympics
Personal information
Nationality Japan (Korea under Japanese rule) > South Korea
Born (1914-08-29)August 29, 1914
Died November 15, 2002(2002-11-15) (aged 88)
Sohn Kee-chung
Hangul 손기정
Revised Romanization Son Gijeong
McCune–Reischauer Son Kijŏng
Japanese pronunciation:
Son Kitei

Sohn Kee-Chung (Korean: 손기정; August 29, 1914[1][2] – November 15, 2002) became the first medal-winning Korean Olympian, when he won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a member of the Japanese delegation.

He competed under the Japanese name Son Kitei, as Korea was part of the Japanese Empire at the time. The name is based on the Japanese kanji pronunciation of his Korean hanja name, both are written the same.

Early life[edit]

Sohn Kee-Chung was born in Sinŭiju, North P'yŏngan Province, Japanese Korea (present-day North Korea). He studied at Yangjeong High School (양정고등학교) in Seoul and Meiji University in Tokyo, where he graduated in 1940.

Athletics career[edit]

Between 1933 and 1936, he ran 13 marathons and won 10 of them.[citation needed] On November 3, 1935 in Tokyo, Japan, Sohn Kee-Chung set a world best in the marathon with a time of 2h26:42.[3][4] According to the International Association of Athletics Federations, this record remained unbroken until Sohn's own trainee, Suh Yun-Bok, won the 1947 Boston marathon.[3][5]

1936 Berlin Olympics[edit]

Sohn, who was competing for the Empire of Japan, won the gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics in the marathon. He ran the 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi) course in 2h29:19.2, breaking the olympic record. His Korean teammate Nam Sung-yong took the bronze medal. As Korea was part of Japan at the time, the IOC and Japan are officially credited with Sohn's gold and Nam's bronze in the 1936 Summer Olympics medal count.

On December 9, 2011, the IOC recognized Sohn's Korean nationality by fixing his official profile. It cited his efforts to sign his Korean name and stressing Korea's status as a separate nation during interviews. The move was part of the Korean Olympic Committee's repeated requests to acknowledge Sohn's background. However, the IOC ruled out changing the nationality and registered name per official records to prevent historical distortions.[6]

Political significance[edit]

Under orders from Tokyo, Sohn Kee-Chung had to compete using the latin alphabet name of Son Kitei. It is the romanization of Japanese pronunciation of 孫基禎, his Korean name in hanja.[7]

When the Dong-a Ilbo, published a photograph of Sohn at the medal ceremony it altered the image to remove the Japanese flag from his running tunic. The act enraged the Governor-General of Korea Minami Jiro in Seoul. The military police imprisoned eight people connected with the newspaper and suspended its publication for nine months.[8]

Hellenic prize[edit]

Ancient Greek bronze helmet that was awarded to Sohn Kee-Chung, National Museum of Korea

For winning the marathon, Sohn was to have received an ancient Greek Helmet (circa BCE 800-700) that had been discovered at Olympia, Greece by German archaeologist Ernst Curtius in 1875. But the presentation of the prize was blocked by Sohn's Japanese coaches.

Instead the helmet was placed in a Berlin museum where it remained for fifty years. After the intervention of a Greek newspaper, the helmet was finally presented to Sohn in 1986. On March 7, 1987, the helmet was categorised as the 904th treasure of South Korea. Replicas of this helmet were awarded to the winners of the 2006 Sohn Kee-Chung half and full marathon.

Later life[edit]

Sohn spent the remainder of his career in South Korea coaching other notable runners such as Suh Yun-Bok, the winner of the Boston Marathon in 1947; Ham Kee-Yong, winner of the Boston Marathon in 1950; and Hwang Young-Cho, who was the gold medalist of the 1992 Summer Olympics marathon, and whom Sohn Kee-Chung especially went to Barcelona to see.

Sohn became the Chairman of the Korean Sporting Association. At the 1988 South Korean Olympics, Sohn was given the honor of carrying the Olympic torch into the stadium at the opening ceremony.[9]

He authored an autobiography entitled My Motherland and Marathon (나의조국과 마라톤).

He was honoured with the Korean Order of Civil Merit (Hangul:국민훈장).

Death and legacy[edit]

Sohn Kee-Chung died at midnight on November 15, 2002 from pneumonia. He was buried at the Daejeon National Cemetery. The Sohn Kee-Chung Memorial Park in Seoul was established in his honor.[9] He was also posthumously made a Grand Cordon (Blue Dragon) of the Order of Sport Merit.

In popular culture[edit]

The historical Korean drama Bridal Mask referenced Sohn Kee-Chung's Olympic win and the subsequent arrest of Korean journalists in its twenty-first episode. [10] In a parade scene, a Korean boxer, the first Korean to win an international sports title, was officially recognized as Japanese due to colonization and was wearing a Japanese flag on his shirt. He passed by Korean spectators waving the Japanese flag. Suddenly a group of spectators unveiled their Korean flags, which were given to them the night before, waved them at him, and cheered for him. The boxer then removed the Japanese flag from his shirt and cheered with the crowd. After government officials heard about this incident, the boxer and journalists were arrested, and the newspaper was shut down.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Mike (November 29, 2002). "Sohn Kee-chung: Korean athlete whose Olympic protest made him a national hero". The Guardian. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  2. ^ "World Marathon Rankings for 1935". Association of Road Racing Statisticians. September 20, 2009. Retrieved November 15, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "12th IAAF World Championships In Athletics: IAAF Statistics Handbook. Berlin 2009." (PDF). Monte Carlo: IAAF Media & Public Relations Department. 2009. pp. Pages 565. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Shu Yun-Bok's performance was set on a course considered to be short by some road racing authorities, which means Sohn's world best may have truly lasted until the early 1950s. (See the Association of Road Racing Statistician's web pages regarding the Boston Marathon and World Best Progressions.)
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Bull, Andy (27 August 2011). "The forgotten story of Sohn Kee-chung, Korea's Olympic hero". The Guardian. 
  9. ^ a b "Sohn Kee-chung". Korea Times. Retrieved 2010-11-04. 
  10. ^ "[Spoiler] "Bridal Mask" boxer recalls Son Gi-jeong". HanCinema. HanCinema. 15 August 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Japan Yasuo Ikenaka
Men's Marathon World Record Holder
November 3, 1935 – April 19, 1947
Succeeded by
South Korea Suh Yun-Bok