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Revisiting past Olympic memories

In 1948, Korea proudly became one of the privileged nations to go to London for the Olympics. It was the first formal sporting event participated in by Korean athletes, who waved the Taegeukgi, Korea’s national flag, in the opening parade. While this scene was witnessed by many throughout the world, the details surrounding the appearance of this first flag and its first flag bearer have long remained a mystery.

However, the hidden stories have finally been unearthed.

For the first time in 64 years, the flag carried in the opening parade was revealed as being under private ownership. The priceless artifact has been well-preserved by the son of the late Ahn Byung-suk (1923 - 1984), who went to London in 1948 as a flag bearer and a baseball player.

In commemoration of his late father’s moment of glory, Ahn had been preserving the flag along with a commemorative pennant, the baseball team’s red uniform, and a badge reading ‘Korea’ that used to be emblazoned on the uniforms of all national athletes.

The 1948 London Olympics (left) was the first international sporting event that saw participation by Korean athletes. In 1976, wrestler Yang Jung-mo (middle) earned Korea its first gold medal in Olympic history. The 1988 Seoul Olympics (left) hosted by Korea remains a milestone in the history of Korea's sports world (photos courtesy of Gonggam Korea).The 1948 London Olympics (left) was the first international sporting event that saw participation by Korean athletes. In 1976, wrestler Yang Jung-mo (middle) earned Korea its first gold medal in Olympic history. The 1988 Seoul Olympics (left) hosted by Korea remains a landmark event in Korean sports history (photos courtesy of Gonggam Korea).

Prior to the recent revealing of the first Olympic flag, there was speculation that Korea had not been able to afford taking care of the artifacts at the time due to instability and had thus given them away to individuals. The younger Ahn, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of theft, has plans to one day display all the artifacts belonging to his late father in an Olympic Museum.

The first Korean national flag to appear at the Olympics will not be available to the public for some time, but the announcement of this new information about its history has been a valuable opportunity for Koreans to look back at Korea's history in the weeks leading up to this year's Olympics.

Former marathoners Yun-cheol Choi and Gi-yong Ham, who made their way to London in 1948 as national athletes, are also receiving the spotlight after announcing that they plan to revisit London once more, though this time as observers rather than national team members. 

At the 1948 games, 84-year-old Choi became the first Korean Olympic marathoner. Although Choi ran at the forefront of the race for the first 40 kilometers, he was ultimately forced to withdraw due to severe muscle spasms and dehydration. His unfortunate withdrawal is still remembered with sympathy by Koreans today.

Ham, who also traveled to London as part of the Korean Team, experienced similar misfortune, being passed over for the final roster of athletes and losing his chance to participate in the race.

The two athletes’ return to London will become a meaningful milestone in Korean Olympic history.

By Lee Seung-ah Staff Writer

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