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Sohn Kee-chung
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Sohn Kee-chung

Sohn Kee-chung (손기정; 孫基禎; Son Gi-jeong) (August 29, 1912 - November 15, 2000) was the first medal-winning Korean Olympian, together with his teammate Nam Sung-yong.

Born in Sineuiju (신의주; 新義州), North Pyongan Do, Sohn Kee-chung was educated at Yangjung High School (양정고등학교) and Meiji University (明治大學). He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics as a marathon runner who finished 42.195 kilometres in 2-hours, 39-minutes, and 19.2-seconds. He broke the world best and received the gold medal.

As Korea was under Japanese control at the time, Sohn Kee-chung competed for the Japanese team in the Olympics, and was forced by the Japanese Empire to use the Japanese name Kitei Son (ソン・ギジョン). However, Sohn Kee-chung refused to sign his names in Japanese during the Olympics, and sometimes even sketched the shape of Korea beside his signatures. When interviewers asked him about his country, he would clarify that Korea is his mother country, not Japan.

When he received the award, so overcome with emotion that the flag rising was of the Empire of Japan and not of Korea, he shed tears.

One of Korea's local newspaper, Dong-a Ilbo (東亞日報) (East Asia Daily), purposefully did not include the Japanese flag in the photo of Sohn Kee-chung receiving the award. This act so enraged the Imperial Japanese Government-General that 8 newspaper personnels were imprisoned, and the East Asia Daily were forced to stop operation for 9 or 10 months.

After the Olympics, he coached runners like:

Eventually, he became the Chairman of the Korean Sporting Association.

At the 1988 Summer Olympics, he carried the Olympic torch into the stadium at the opening ceremony. He wrote an autobiography called My Motherland and Marathon (나의 조국 나의 마라톤; 《我的祖國和我的馬拉松》). He was honoured with the Citizen's Merit Award (국민훈장; 國民勛章) and posthumously, the Cheongryong Medal and Blue Dragon Order.

Sohn Kee-chung died at the age of 90 at midnight on November 15, 2000 due to pneumonia, and was buried in the Daejeon National Cemetery. Afterwards, the Sohn Kee-jung Memorial Park was established.

Olympic Champions in Men's Marathon
Spiridon Louis | Michel Théato; | Thomas Hicks | William Sherring | Johnny Hayes | Kenneth McArthur | Hannes Kolehmainen | Albin Stenroos | Boughera El Ouafi | Juan Carlos Zabala | Sohn Kee-chung | Delfo Cabrera | Emil Zátopek; | Alain Mimoun | Abebe Bikila (2 times) | Mamo Wolde | Frank Shorter | Waldemar Cierpinski (2 times) | Carlos Lopes | Gelindo Bordin | Hwang Young-Cho | Josia Thugwane | Gezahegne Abera