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North Korean Soccer Hero Park Doo Ik Will Carry the Torch for the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Jeong Jae Sung | 2008-03-24 17:46 Read in Korean
A total of 56 North Koreans will carry the Olympic Flame across Pyongyang on April 28 as torch bearers for the Beijing Olympic Games, and 70-year-old Pak Doo Ik, the oldest, is one of them.
Pak Doo Ik participated in the 1966 World Cup tournament in England, and scored in the North Korea’s 1-0 win over Italy in the final game of the first round. Italy which had been considered a favorite to win the tournament bowed out of the tournament, and North Korea reached to the quarterfinals to the surprise of the world.
The North Korean soccer team was then called “Chollima Soccer Team.” With the average height being 162 cm, North Korean players had to overcome the height disadvantage, and thus adopted a unique and unprecedented playing style called “Ladder Tactics,” which drew wide attention.
In the quarterfinal round against Portugal, North Korea led 3-0 early in the game, but Portugal managed to score five goals and eventually won the game. Although the North Korean team failed to make the semi-final, the players had already become the national heroes of North Korea. When they returned home, they received a hearty welcome.
Pak Doo Ik, who scored the game-winning goal against Italy and other players such as Shin Young Gyun and Oh Yun Kyung received the title of the “People’s Athletic of People” the country’s highest honor in the athletic field. All players received the title of the distinguished athletic and were treated as heroes wherever they were such as work and school.
Their legendary story was made into a documentary film by British sports journalist Daniel Gordon with permission from the North Korean authorities.
Unfortunately, their good life did not last long. They soon became the victims of ideological battles, and most except a few were expelled to the provinces. They came under the scrutiny by the authorities for the reason that the team suffered a 5-3 loss to Portugal after leading 3-0.
They were sent to places such as political prisoners camps and mine, and the team was disbanded. Kang Cheol Hwan, a former political prisoner in North Korea and now a reporter in South Korea, remembered seeing the player named Park Seong Jin at the Yoduk Camp. Park was sent to the camp after being charged with espionage for delivering a letter for a Zainichi (Resident Korean in Japan) who voluntarily moved to North Korea.
Pak Doo Ik was no exception. According to testimonials of many defectors, he was expelled to Daepyong-Workers District in Bocheon of Yangkang Province working as a forest laborer for ten years. After that, in early 1990s, Pak Doo Ik served as a director at Yangkang Athletic Committee at the order of Kim Jong Il.
Later, Pak was allowed to come back to Pyongyang where he coached North Korea’s all-around national team and Lee Myong Soo Soccer Team. Pak also served as the manager of the May 1st Stadium.
Meanwhile, with respect to the selection of torchbearers, the Executive Secretary of the North Korean Olympic Committee, Ko Chul Ho said, “We accepted around five hundred applications following the guidelines set by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.” Ko added, “We selected as torchbearers those who contributed to the prosperity of the country among public officials, workers, farmers, or athletics or coaches who achieved fine records in major sports competitions home and abroad.
The Secretary Ko did not release the names of the other torchbearers other than Pak Doo Ik. It is believed that members of the North Korean Olympic Team whose high performance have earned them fame in the world must have been chosen as torch carriers such as North Korea’s star Judo champion Kye Soon Hee, table tennis player Lee Bun Hee and Jung Song Ok aka the world's "Queen of Marathon."