On the Controversy Over Yuna Kim and What It Says About the Olympics

SOCHI is over. Putin’s happy (I hope….) about the almost-success of his Olympic games (the crisis in Ukraine kind of stole his thunder). But staying loyal to the title of this blog, I wanted to draw some attention to the controversy revolving the huge national backlash of Kim Yuna’s loss to Russian skater Sotnikova in what turned out to be the last performance in her professional career.

The pang of her loss was felt internationally, to an extent, but much more poignantly in South Korea. An online petition for an inquiry into the scoring sprang up within hours of the medal ceremony, and it gathered more than a million signatures within a few days, most of them from South Korea. The petition was ultimately rejected, but the sentiments remain. It makes sense that the Koreans are angry, but the controversy this incident has stirred and the sheer momentum this issue has gathered is clearly about much more than a two-footed double-loop. It was a blow to a Korean pride. It doesn’t help that the person who “stole” Yuna’s gold medal was Russian.

The immensity of nationalism sparked by the Olympic Games, in my opinion, is inevitable but unfortunate. Olympic athletes represent their countries, more than they represent themselves. A sporting competition should emphasize the individual—it’s Sotnikova vs. Mao Asada vs. Kim Yuna. But in the context of the Olympic games, it’s Russia vs. Japan vs. Korea. The rivalry carries the weight of all kinds of nationalistic sentiments, all piled on to the backs of these Olympic athletes. Ultimately, the Olympics has become yet another stadium for nations, for political victories. It’s really a competition of how many medals each country has won. It’s a means for the projection of power and national prestige. It’s a vessel for fiery nationalism. It’s a chance for Russia to say, hah, we beat you Americans. We have more gold medals.

And perhaps Yuna did fall victim to this desperate need for a country to “prove” itself through any means (maybe even through biased judges). Perhaps she didn’t. My concern is that the magnitude of the controversy came to be because of how politicized the Olympics games are, or have become. And really, how healthy is it to allow athletic competition represent a battle for between nations? The Olympics is about competitive sportsmanship. Its goal is to transcend political differences, not to emphasize national rivalry. As much as we are sad that Yuna didn’t win (I, for one, am a die hard fan), perhaps we not let nationalistic sentiments detract from respecting the rules of sportsmanship. Maybe it’s time to rethink how we think about the Olympics.

One thought on “On the Controversy Over Yuna Kim and What It Says About the Olympics

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