Consider Joshua Cooper Ramo the first casualty of the Japan-South Korea feud in PyeongChang.
During a broadcast, the NBC analyst said that “every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural and technical and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation,”
He forgot forget about the bitter history, and current sports rivalry, between the two countries.
It’s a historical feud stemming from brutal Japanese colonial rule in the 20th century up through the Second World War and current arguments over sovereignty over the Liancourt Rocks right in between the two countries.
Their head-to-heads aren’t as glamorous as a US vs. Russia-Miracle on Ice-esque hockey match, but for the fans in South Korea, and 500 miles away in Japan, it won’t matter. They’ll be eager to take bragging rights in February.
Their intensity level? Comical. And deadly.
American short-track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, who is half Japanese, won the gold medal in the men’s 1500m at the 2002 Olympics after South Korea’s Kim Dong Sun was disqualified for blocking Ohno’s path.
The South Koreans appealed the disqualification, and lost, but anti-Ohno mania began.
A South Korean company plastered Ohno’s face on toilet paper while a member Korean national soccer team mocked Ohno after scoring a goal during the 2002 World Cup.
Then there was the video game. A gaming company created an Ohno character that players could shoot in the head.
“I was the second-most hated person in Korea. Second,” Ohno said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. “Number One was Osama Bin Laden. That’s not a joke.”
Thousands of anti-Ohno emails shut down the US Olympic Committee Server for nine hours and the animosity continued on. In 2003, the American short-track team cited death threats against Ohno when it withdrew from a World Cup event held in South Korea.
But it’s not all harsh feelings out there.
Figure skaters, Kim Yu Na of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan, carried on the rivalry leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Both were the top skaters heading into Vancouver and expected to compete for the gold. And both frequently cited the rivalry as a motivation to improve their skating.
“We exchanged positive stimulus with each other,” Asada said. “We encouraged each other so that we could grow together.”
Kim eventually skated away with the win and a new world record, 28 points ahead of Asada who was trying to become the second woman from Japan to win gold.
Neither Kim, Asada, nor Ohno will be competing in PyeongChang – although Ohno will be a broadcaster for some speedskating events. But if these two countries go head-to-head again, maybe another athlete, or Ramo, will find themselves on some toilet paper in March.