Why is he so significant? He smashed the existing world record in 1935 for marathon running 2:26:14, beating the previous record which had stood for the previous 10 years. After setting the record in 1935, it stood for another 12 years until one of his trainees set a new time at the Boston Marathon in 1947.
Son Kee-chung is best known for winning the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he ran under the Japanese flag because of the colonial annexation of Korea in 1910. Defiantly, at the medal ceremony, Son Kee-chung sought conceal the Japanese flag on his uniform and remains a political act of Korean patriotism that continues to be widely celebrated in Korea.
He went on to become an exceptional coach, not only training Suh Yun-bok for his 1947 win, but also ensuring first, second and third places to Korea in the 1950 Boston Marathon, as well as Hwang Young-cho who won gold for South Korea after winning the marathon at the 1982 Barcelona Olympics.
His legacy is one of inspiration. Visiting Son Kee-chung’s old primary school in Seoul that has been turned into a Memorial Centre, the Manager summed up Son Kee-chung’s legacy in one word as: “challenge”.
It is the adaption of a quote from Son Kee-chung that inspires the theme of a human bridge for the book Life Bridge which will help to illustrate the importance of our connections in overcoming challenges. Son Kee-chung said, and I have adapted the words to replace his mention of ‘the human body’ with ‘the human bridge’:
The human bridge makes incredible things possible when supported by strong commitment and passion.
I will be running the seventh leg of the 10 City Bridge Run here in Seoul on this Sunday at the Son Kee-chung Marathon event.