North Korean Olympic shooter wins South Korean hearts for 'one Korea' comments

South Korea's Jin Jong Oh (L) shakes hands with North Korea's Kim Song Guk during the medal ceremony of the men's 50m pistol at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Shooting Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 10 August 2016. Mr Jin won the gold m
South Korea's Jin Jong Oh (L) shakes hands with North Korea's Kim Song Guk during the medal ceremony of the men's 50m pistol at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Shooting Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 10 August 2016. Mr Jin won the gold medal, while Mr Kim took the bronze. EPA

SEOUL - It was a North Korean shot that went straight to South Korean hearts.

North Korean Olympic shooter Kim Song Guk's comments about unification have gone viral on social media in South Korea, with a video of him garnering more than 2.2 million views and over 160,000 likes within 24 hours.

The clip, shared by South Korean TV channel SBS on its Facebook page on Thursday (Aug 11) night, shows Mr Kim, 31, clinching a bronze medal at the men's 50m pistol shooting segment at the Rio Olympics a day before (Aug 10). The top prize went to his South Korean rival Jin Jong Oh.

Speaking at a post-event press conference, Mr Kim said: "If the two (Koreas) become one, we could have a bigger medal... And if both the gold and bronze medals came from one Korea, it could have been a much bigger win."

His comments came as a surprise as North Korean athletes rarely comment on the topic of unification - a sore point in inter-Korea relations - and he did so despite North Korea recently banning a popular unification song.

The social media's response to his words was just as unexpected.

Mr Kim's 1 min 30 sec video has drawn over 13,600 comments, with many raving over his moving words and some worrying if he would get into trouble for saying what the North Korean regime may deem as inappropriate.

Ms Ra Hye Jung, said that her heart "ached for him" when she saw how he hesitated for several seconds before making the comment, as if his life depended on whether he said the right thing. "I hope to see him again at the next Olympics," she added.

Mr Suryeol Park was moved by Mr Kim's courage. "Even though you got a bronze medal, your words deserve a gold medal," he wrote.

Ms Lee Jeeyoung said: "It'd be great if unification can start from sports."

Mr Kim, who made his Olympic debut at Rio, is the third North Korean shooter to win an Olympic medal. His predecessors had won much earlier in 2004 and 1972.

After the competition, Mr Kim congratulated his South Korean rival, whom he described as a world-famous shooter. "I will train hard with the goal of beating him one day," he said.

The Olympics offers a rare platform for North and South Koreans to meet and interact with one another. Both sides are not allowed to travel across the demilitarised zone that separates the two nations, which are technically still at war as the 1950-53 Korean War had ended with an armistice.

The international sporting event also gave South Korean gymnast Lee Eun Ju a chance to take a selfie with her North Korean competitor Hong Un Jong.

A photo of them posing for the shot went viral on Twitter and was shared hundreds of thousands of times. Many said the photo demonstrated the quintessential Olympic spirit.

Ms Lee said she was surprised by the response online and "I'm still awed by that".

changmc@sph.com.sg