Skip to content

Remembering South Korea’s ‘Ohno celebration’ at 2002 World Cup

Jun 9, 2014, 11:16 AM EDT

Apolo Ohno Getty Images

One of the most memorable intersections of the World Cup and the Olympics occurred in 2002, when South Korea and Japan hosted the world’s biggest soccer tournament four months after the U.S. hosted the Winter Games.

In that World Cup, the U.S. and South Korea played a group-stage match to a 1-1 tie in the South Korean city of Daegu (which would hold the 2011 World Track and Field Championships).

The equalizer in that match came from South Korean substitute Ahn Jung-Hwan, whose header beat U.S. goalie Brad Friedel in the 78th minute (video here).

Ahn sprinted toward a corner after scoring, amid a cauldron of cheers from some 60,000 South Koreans, and broke into a unique celebration.

He came to a stop, leaned forward and made overt striding motions with his arms and legs. The meaning behind it wasn’t immediately apparent to ESPN commentators Jack Edwards and Ty Keough – Edwards referred to Ahn’s gesture 10 minutes after the goal on the broadcast — but had to be to any ardent fan of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Ahn was throwing shade at U.S. short track speed skater Apolo Ohno (then better known as Apolo Anton Ohno).

In the 2002 Olympics, Ohno won his first career gold medal in the 1500m final despite not crossing the finish line first. South Korean Kim Dong-Sung beat Ohno but was disqualified for cross-tracking, a fate he learned while carrying a South Korean flag in a victory celebration.

source: Getty Images

Ahn’s teammates joined the celebration after his 78th-minute goal. (Getty Images)

Kim memorably slammed the flag onto the ice. The controversial decision apparently lingered in South Korea through the spring and into the first World Cup hosted in Asia. Some reports from a decade ago:

* During the Winter Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Committee received so much hate mail in the hours after the DQ that its computer system crashed. (New York Times)

* Ohno said he received death threats.

* A Seoul newspaper dubbed him “the most hated athlete in South Korea.” (Ohno’s autobiography)

* Ohno skipped a short track World Cup stop in South Korea in 2003. When he later returned for a competition in South Korea, he was accompanied by 100 police officers in riot gear at the airport. (NYT)

* Ohno’s reaction was to laugh it off, saying Ahn needed to work on his technique. It was “unfortunate that they’re lingering on something that wasn’t even my decision,” he told the Seattle Times. (AP)

* The U.S. team, which made an inspiring run to the quarterfinals, was unaware what Ahn’s celebration meant. “Is that what he was doing?” said Landon Donovan, who was 20 and playing in his first World Cup. “It’s kind of a joke. Why do you have to do that? It has no relevance to this game.” (AP)

* “We knew that our people still have some grudge against the United States for the skating incident, so we wanted to allay that with the goal ceremony,” Ahn told reporters after the game.

Photos: Apolo Ohno completes Ironman 70.3 Boise