On July 31 at Athlete’s Park in Rio de Janeiro, North Korean artistic gymnast Ri Se-gwang was warming up for his training. Five athletes from team USA approached him, giving Ri fives. Ri occasionally shared conversation with Rumanian gymnast Marian Drăgănescu throughout the training.
The heroic weightlifter from team North Korea, Om Yun-chol, took selfies with athletes from other teams. North Korean Jo Yong-suk and South Korean Hwang Seongeun, both competing for shooting, talked to each other in a comfortable mood. Hwang presented a small box of snack as she left.
Team North Korea at Olympic Games Rio 2016 isn’t the usual segregated, anti-social group. Compared to them at past international games, North Korean athletes look more comfortable and relaxed.
The most noticeable change about team North Korea was the athletes’ relationship with South Korean competitors. In the past, North Korean athletes avoided conversation not only with the athletes, but also with the reporters from South Korea. However this summer, they greeted South Korean athletes with more hospitality.
Artistic gymnast Ri Se-gwang even expressed sympathy for South Korean gymnast Yang Hak-seon, who is skipping the game after tearing an Achilles tendon in March. “I heard about his injury. I wish he prepares well so that we can meet again,” said Ri.
Weightlifter Om Yun-chol looked confident at his second Olympic stage. As a South Korean reporter approached him after the training to compliment his performance, Om modestly replied that he’s not that strong. “I’m in good condition. Let’s talk after the game,” he added.
At the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, after winning a gold medal, Om asked reporters at the press conference if they’ve ever thought about “breaking a rock with an egg.” “I was taught that an egg can break a rock if the egg is filled with ideology. That’s how I won the medal,” said Om to the voiceless South Korean reporters. Two years later at Rio Olympics, Om is wearing a yellow shirt with the Nike logo on his chest.
In 2012, North Korea left London with a total of 6 medals (4 gold and 2 bronze), tying the record from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Original article written by Won Kim and Joo-young Pi
Translated and edited by Heewon Kim