Guest Post: What’s More Important Than Olympic Gold?

This is another great guest post by another one of my sharp Master’s of Public Diplomacy peers, Denise Luu.

Let me start by saying that I am not much of a blogger, but my dear friend, Sulagna, insisted that I give it a try. To her, I give my sincerest thanks. I heart you, girl!

I came across this article one day when I should really be working. But, my excitement for the Olympics urged me to read on. (At the moment, anything that involves international sports makes me antsy.)

Li Pun Hui

AP Photo: North Korean Li Pun Hui speaks to media at the Taedonggong Cultural Center for the Disabled in Pyongyang, North Korea

The title of the article, “Ex-NKorean star recalls ‘ping pong diplomacy’”, immediately caught my attention. Not only because it had the word “diplomacy”, but because I hate ping-pong. That topic, however, is for another day. Today, I want to talk about how sports brought two women from rival countries together.

Hyun Jung-Hwa of South Korea and Li Bun-Hui of North Korea were bitter rivals up until they were brought together as part of the first “unified Korea” team for the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships. These women spent 50 days training together, living together, and eating together. They also shared stories with one another.

Ping Pong Diplomacy

Li (Left) and Hyun (Right) playing some serious ping-pong and rocking the hell out of those uniforms.

In the end, they were unable to win the gold medal. Though, they did not leave empty-handed. They walked away from the experience with not only a new understanding of each other; they walked away with a friendship that would endure, even after 21 years of no contact.

Chiba 1991

AP Photo: In this April 30, 1991 photo, South Korea’s Hyun Jung-hwa, left, and North Korea’s Li Pun Hui, Koreas’ first-ever unified team, wave while holding their winning trophy after they defeated China at a world table tennis championships competition in Chiba, Japan.

21 years and both women still talk about each other as if it were just yesterday when they last spoke. It is stories like this that reminds me of the importance of the Olympic Games. It reminds me that it is not just here for entertainment; it is here as an opportunity for mutual understanding, as a time to confront prejudices, as a chance for friendships. It shows the importance of working as a team and the importance of respecting one another. Remembering that, at the end of day, we are all the same; we are all human.

Hyun Jung-Hwa and Li Bun-Hui do not know when they will see each other again as relations between the North and the South has been strained in recent years. But, what they do know is that the memories that they had together will never be forgotten and the friendship that they have will never change.

When you watch the Olympics this year, it is my hope that you remember Hyun and Li’s story, that you remember the real reason for the Games. That the bond of friendship is worth more than any Olympic gold.

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One thought on “Guest Post: What’s More Important Than Olympic Gold?

  1. They will likely meet in London Olympics. Correction: They did win the team gold in the 1991 World Championship.

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