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Real Stories of the Olympic Spirit

Lessons in Olympism: Remember My Name

Albertville, 1992

At first glance I’m not a logical candidate for the sport of cross-country skiing. It is a sport of rugged endurance. I’m only 1.55 tall and during my competitive days I weighed 47kg. However, I am tenacious and I have proven many times that I have the endurance to go the distance. I overcame injury to won two gold medals, three silvers and five bronzes at five Olympic Games. I didn’t win any medals at my first Olympic Games in 1988 in Calgary. In 1992,at the Olympic Games in Albertville, France, half the population of my home town in Italy, came to cheer for me. I finished 5th in 15km, 4th in the 5km, 2nd in the combined pursuit and 3rd in the relay. In the final women’s cross-country event at Albertville, I took the gold in the 30km. Ten years later in Salt Lake City in 2002, I won another gold medal in the 15km free event and a silver medal in the 30 km. In 2006, I lit the Olympic Flame at the Games in Turino. If my life in sports reveals an underlying theme, it is that if one is to succeed, one must endure.

My name is Stefania Belmondo

Seoul 1988, Berlin 1936

I was the first Korean to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games when I won the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I was 24 years old. However, I was representing Japan under the name of Son Kitei because Korea had been annexed by Japan in 1910. My team mate Nam Sung-yong won the bronze medal, also as a runner for Japan. I broke the Olympic record for the marathon by finishing 42.195 kilometres in 2:29:19:2. I graduated from Meji University in 1940. During my career as a coach, I trained athletes Suh Yun-Bok who won the Boston Marathon in 1947, Ham Kee-Yong who won the Boston Marathon in 1950 and Hwang Young-Cho, winner of the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. I also became chairman of the Korean Sporting Association. At the 1988 Games in Seoul, I had the great honour of carrying the Olympic Torch into the stadium for the opening ceremonies, more than 50 years after I had stood atop the podium in Berlin.

My name is Sohn Kee-chung

Helsinki 1952

At the 1952 Games in Helsinki, women were allowed to compete against men in the equestrian events for the first time. I was one of the first four women to compete in the mixed events, and I won a silver medal in dressage, representing Denmark. It was a historical moment for women at the Games, but it had even greater meaning for me personally. I was paralyzed below the knees. In 1944 when I was 23 years old and pregnant, I came down with polio. Miraculously I had a healthy baby girl, but my recovery took many years. I struggled to lift my arms and regain use of my thigh muscles. Eventually I began crawling and then walking with crutches. Three years later, in 1947, I still was not able to use my legs, but I entered the Scandinavian Riding Championships and finished second. In 1952 I won a silver medal at the Helskink Games as one of the first women in the sport. In 1956 in Melbourne, I was another silver medal. Even with a physical handicap, an athlete can still achieve greatness in sports with determination and discipline. In Denmark, we have a saying: “Life is not holding a good hand; life is playing a poor hand well.”

My name is Lis Hartel.

Melbourne 1956

I was not an athlete but many people believe I made a significant contribution to the Olympic Games. In 1956 I was 17 years old and working as an apprentice carpenter in Chinatown in Melbourne. Even though I was only a teenager, I was aware of the tensions in the world. I wrote to the chairman of the organizing committee for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with an idea that I hoped would demonstrate how sport can rise above politics.

I suggested that all athletes march together in the closing ceremony at the Melbourne Games. Previously, the athletes had always paraded as separate nations. However, the Olympic movement always stressed the importance of camaraderie among athletes–competitors on the field, friends in life.

Having the athletes march together at the close of the Games symbolized their unity in sport. The Games organizers agreed and had the athletes close the Games as one united group. From then on, Melbourne was referred to as “the friendly games”.

Ironically, I never attended the 1956 Olympics. I watched the Games through a television store window. However, 44 years later, I was invited by the organizers to attend the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

My name is John Ian Wing.

Berlin 1936

I came from the humblest of backgrounds. I was the son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves. However, growing up in poverty didn’t stop me from becoming a runner. Through sports, I was able to make my mark on the world. During my career, I achieved many victories, with six of them occurring on May 25th, 1935: I broke five world records and equaled a sixth record in under an hour. My record of 8.13 metres in the long jump stood for 25 years. At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Government hoped that their theory of the Aryan Race’s superiority would prevail. However, I was heralded as the hero of the Games by the people of Berlin after winning the 200 metre with a four-metre lead, the 100 metre sprint and the long jump. I received my fourth gold medal as the starter for the 4×100 relay. We set a world record that would last for 20 years. As proud as I am of my sports achievement, the greatest glory comes from proving in no uncertain terms that the Olympics are for all people, regardless of race, creed or colour.

My name is Jesse Owens.

Copyright © 2015 Singapore National Olympic Council.

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