Ernest’s sportsmanship helped Sohn to win gold

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It is pleasing to remember that an act of sportsmanship by Ernest Harper of Stannington helped Korean Sohn Kee-jung win the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Because Korea was occupied by Japan in 1936 Sohn had to qualify for the Japanese team, along with fellow Korean Nam Seung-yong.

Both men were forced to endure the further insult of adopting Japanese names.

Sohn, a fervent nationalist, always signed his Korean name in Berlin and always made a point of explaining that Korea was a separate nation.

At the medal ceremony Sohn endured the humiliation of having his win marked by the raising of the Japanese flag and the playing of the Japanese national anthem.

Sohn and Nam registered a silent protest by bowing their heads.

As for the race, Stan and Sohn were behind the leader Zabala. Sohn was keen to chase but Ernest said not to.

“Sohn won gold after Zabala cracked as Ernest predicted. Ernest finished second.

After the race Sohn said: The gold is mine but I owe it to the Englishman.”

Back in Korea, Sohn was a national hero. One newspaper published a picture of him on the victory platform with the Japanese flag on his sweatshirt painted over.

The Japanese responded by jailing eight people connected with the paper and banning it for nine months.

Sohn carried the South Korean flag in the Opening Ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics, the first for an independent Korea.

Forty years later, in a moment of high national emotion, Sohn entered the Seoul Olympic Stadium bearing the Olympic torch.

The 76-year-old Sohn bounded around the track, leaping for joy and bursting with pride for himself and his country.

William H Ronksley