Korean Gesture Reminds Me of Seoul, 1988
The two Korean athletes’ selfie in the Olympic Village – now flashed around the world -- reminds me of another Korean gesture for common humanity.
It happened at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul -- the first nearly complete set of Games after the American boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the inevitable Soviet payback at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
After the futile boycotts – making athletes pay for the failures of nations -- the two behemoths were back in the Olympic business in 1988. Just before the games began, I was at a reception at the media center. Koreans are more than generous in plying visitors with food, drink, gifts – and fellowship.
(“They remind me of my relatives in Brooklyn,” a news-reporter friend of mine said. “They get up close to you, and they laugh and cry.” He loved them for it.)
At this reception, a South Korean host mingled among the visiting journalists and spotted an American (me) and a Russian, both alone, both within arm’s length.
He hooked one arm around me and his other arm around the Russian.
"We should all be friends,” he urged us. “Come on, shake hands.”
The Russian was as bemused as I was. I had no issue with Russians – had been in Moscow in 1986 for the Goodwill Games, midsummer, warm hearts, leaving me with a permanent affection for the people.
But, geez, two journalists at a reception? Two strangers? A handshake? Really?
The guy looked at me, and I looked at him, and he gave a very Russian shrug, and I did my best to imitate, as if to say, “что вы говорите” – whatever you say.
We shook hands, I think the Korean took a photo, and we retreated to separate corners of the hospitality tent. Enough freaking brotherhood for one evening.
Now I wish I had the photo, but that was before the age of digital.
Nowadays, a North Korean and South Korean athlete meet in the village and take a selfie. Somebody else takes a photo of them. It goes around the world. We all take heart in this.
Now we learn the North Korean athlete’s story is a bit more complicated. The latest article includes the phrase “coal mine.”
But bless the people who care. Two of the most touching columns I have read about these Games were written by Roger Cohen and Frank Bruni in the Times.
Cohen described the spiritual journey of an Egyptian volleyball player who wore a hijab in competition. (I don’t know anybody who writes better about Islam in the modern world than Cohen.)
Bruni wrote about the high points of competition that made him cry. (I’m going to sound like a jerk, but my memories of Michael Phelps and swimming events at previous Olympics bring back a strong whiff of chlorine, not much else.)
I do remember grand moments, many outside the arena -- like a warm-hearted Korean urging me to put down my little dish of kimchi and shake hands with a Russian.
8/13/2016 09:16:50 am
The Olympics is still interesting. There is too much money and too much politics. And there are the athletes....a combination of genuine innocents and complicit professionals. The mass media doesn't bother to tell them apart, but astute journalists still can and the really good ones let their readers know by telling us about the innocents and their coaches.
8/13/2016 02:02:27 pm
8/13/2016 02:12:27 pm
Bruce, a really trashy thing to say. Solo is one of the great American players, and she surely knows that teams, men and women, play to lull other teams upfield., I will never forget watching some idiot right back for Brazil, Leandro, go traipsing upfield in 1982, and here came the entire Roman army, led by Paolo Rossi, bing-bing-bing, goal, Sweden pretty much did that to the US, against a terrific back four. That's cowardly? Tell that to Paolo Rossi. Forza Italia! Forza Pia!
8/13/2016 02:08:23 pm
Brian, thanks for you point of view., I always enjoyed the sports we didn't see from Olympics to Olympics -- giants like Steven Redgrave, British rower, or the Pocket Hercules, weight-lifter from Turkey, or the first year of synchronized swimming, 1984. Not sure what constitutes "amateur" but my definition is, people who we don't see on TV every minute of every day. GV
8/13/2016 12:21:29 pm
A lovely memory, George. Thanks for bringing it to all of us again.
8/13/2016 02:15:54 pm
Hansen, thanks. It's funny, how I've been having flashbacks to the seven summer Games I covered, and usually the best memories are the ones not in competition but outside the arena. I'm guessing I lived for being out and about in Barcelona.....Seoul.....Athens, etc. The events took care of themselves.....The night Jennifer 8 Lee and Chris Clarey and I went to a Uighur restaurant in a hutang (neighborhood) in Beijing....that kind of stuff. GV
8/13/2016 02:12:08 pm
8/14/2016 04:19:16 pm
George--in a previous post you pondered whether FIFA’s World Cup and the IOS’s Olympics had reached a tipping point and would it be time for them both to go.
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.