What South Koreans Really Think of the Olympic Thaw

Written by | Sports

The Reader Center is one way we in the newsroom are trying to connect with you, by highlighting your perspectives and experiences and offering insight into how we work.

The Winter Olympics will begin on Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, against a backdrop of uncertainty over the meaning of recent diplomatic overtures between the two Koreas. The rival nations — who separated after a devastating civil war — will have their athletes march under one flag and, for the first time, field a joint Olympic team.

We wondered how South Koreans and Korean-Americans view this putative thawing of inter-Korean relations, and how it is affecting their ambitions to host and compete successfully in the Olympics.

Almost 700 readers responded, in Korean and English. Here is a selection of the responses; they have been translated, condensed and edited for clarity.

Heejin Lee, 34, Seoul

What North Korea wants is preservation of their regime. Those who support the joint Olympic team aren’t disillusioned about that. They think the joint Olympic team is a tool to bring North Korea to the talking table. Talks backed with strong military unity between South Korea and the U.S. is the answer, and efforts to form a joint team and march together in the Olympics are a great way to start.

Chung Nam-ju, 18, Yongin, South Korea

My grandfather has been separated from his family in North Korea. So when meetings of separated families were organized, he would always apply. But the strained inter-Korean relations meant that such meetings dwindled and my grandfather is aging. He cries every time all our family members meet during traditional holidays, saying he misses them so much.

I know and my grandfather knows that it would be difficult to improve inter-Korean relations to a point that allows us to reunify. But I hope that our athletes marching together under one flag and unifying our women’s ice hockey teams can help the two Koreas get along better. Then, we would get more meetings between separated families and I can help my grandfather find out whether or not his family members are alive or dead.

I hope no one comes to the Olympics’

Sungwoo Cho, 22, Durham, N.C.

I hope no one comes to the Olympics because it is absolutely humiliating that Koreans cannot represent our own flag and our own anthem. Most of the people who were separated at the signing of the armistice in the 1950s are no longer alive, and the younger generation today only feels hate toward the North. In addition, many young people hate the idea of taking on a financial burden to unite Korea. We do not want to pay huge taxes to rebuild North Korea.

Eun Cho, 46, Boulder, Colo.

North Korea will do something to get attention from the world and do something to get money. Ransom money? Terror attacks?

Sungjin Kun, 25, Seoul

I served 21 months in the South Korean Army and my friends are still serving. We used to think it’s amazing to host the Olympics, but now we feel it’s disastrous. Who could have known our commander-in-chief would be the one that helps our enemy? Our troops’ sacrifice in 1950 is about to become worthless. The White House has to take military action right now, eliminate the North Korean threat, and help us maintain democracy and freedom.

Cha Seung-Hoon, 22, Bundang City, South Korea

I might be jumping ahead of myself here but we may not even be free from the threat of terrorism from North Korea. An extreme incident will surely occur during this Olympics. I hope South Koreans wake up and face the reality.

We are one people’

Talia Yoon, 32, Seoul

It’s tragic that people of shared history, blood, language and culture have been divided through geopolitics of the superpowers. Neither Korea has ever been truly independent since the division, but under the sway of the U.S. and China. It’s long overdue that the two powers recognize the manifest destiny of united Korea. I enthusiastically support the decision by both governments to have our athletes march under one flag and compete as a united hockey team.

Ji-eun Lee, 29, Daegu, South Korea

I can’t forget the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when North and South had a parade together. It was like a dream. We are the same people. Uniting for the Olympics is a good way to try to solve our problems peacefully.

Peter Kim, 43, Seoul

I expect the Winter Games will be successful just as the Summer Olympics were in 1988. The South Korean government will do everything possible to ensure the safety of all participants and make sure that everyone has a good time.

Lee Kyung-min, 33, Incheon, South Korea

Only a while ago, many countries around the world didn’t want to send its delegates to Pyeongchang Olympics because the venues were close to North Korea. But forming a unified team could show the world the Koreas’ will to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.

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