SPIRIT OF THE GAMES

The Olympics bring North and South Korea together—at least in one iconic selfie

Obsession
Rio 2016
Obsession
Rio 2016

Their nations have technically remained at war with each other since 1953, and tensions have been inflamed further by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile testing this year. But two young Olympic athletes, North Korea’s Hong Un-jong and South Korea’s Lee Eun-ju, put national differences aside to take a selfie together during their gymnastics training session in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday (Aug. 7).

The image of the two athletes’ sporting friendship and solidarity has been heralded as representing the spirit of the Olympics.

“North Korea meets South Korea and they smile and take a selfie,” wrote another. “Maybe global leaders should take up gymnastics.”

“With my parents born in what is now called North Korea, this Olympic selfie gives me hope of a future reunification,” said one Twitter user.

Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, tweeted:

Some took a more skeptical view. “Hope she doesn’t go back to NK,” wrote one Reddit user, with others asking if Hong would face punishment upon returning home for “fraternizing with the enemy.”

The moment has served as a brief reminder that the games—whose goal (pdf) is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind”—can at least bring young athletes together, if not their nations too.

Rio Olympics Artistic Gymnastics Women
Coming together. (AP/Dmitri Lovetsky)
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