Athletes of North, South Korea show friendlier side during Rio Olympics

By Elizabeth Shim

SEOUL, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- As tensions prevail between North and South Korea, a different kind of atmosphere has carried the day between athletes of the two Koreas at the Rio Olympic Games.

It began innocently enough with a request for a selfie from South Korean gymnast Lee Eun-ju to her North Korean counterpart Hong Un Jung on Aug. 4.


The photograph of the two young women standing side by side, as Lee, 17, gestures with a V- or victory sign while holding up her smartphone camera, went viral this week.

The photo prompted dozens of people, including Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, to applaud the gestures. "This is why we do the Olympics," Bremmer tweeted the next day.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach called the selfie a "great gesture."

Lee, who was born to a South Korean father and a Japanese mother, told South Korea's KBS Radio on Friday the tremendous response to the photograph still surprises her.

Lee said after gymnasts completed their training for the day, she had asked Hong for a souvenir photograph.

"Hong came right next to me to take the photo together," Lee said. "I don't know much about politics, but I don't think relations with North Korea are that bad. If we have exchanges with sportspeople from other countries, why can't athletes between the two Koreas do the same?"


Friendly camaraderie was also the theme at the 50-meter pistol competition on Wednesday, where South Korean shooter Jin Jong-oh won the gold at the event, and North Korea's Kim Song Guk took the bronze.

South Korea's Jin Jong-oh (L) shakes hands with North Korea's Kim Song-guk. Photo by Yonhap/UPI
The North Korean athlete said that Jin "is an athlete with a world reputation, and so he could be said to be my rival," South Korean news network YTN reported.

Kim also said Jin is his "benchmark" in future competitions, and the two athletes were seen at the event in an amicable exchange.

South Korean archer Chang Hye-jin, who won the gold in the Round of 16 archery competition on Thursday, was turned down for a selfie photo op with her North Korean competitor Kang Un Ju, according to YTN.

But the athletes took a more casual photo on Wednesday, in which Kang avoided the gaze of the camera but still smiled in the presence of the South Korean team.

Photo by Yonhap News Agency/UPI

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