For the first time in Olympic history, Korean was chosen as an official language for the event and Ewha played an important role in this meaningful occasion. Of the six Korean interpreters for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, four of them - Lee Yun-hyang, Bae Yu-chung, Lim Sun-young and Lee Eun-jeong - are professors of Ewha Womans University Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation. As an official language, Korean brochures were available and Korean was interpreted during official conferences and interviews with medal winners. “Two of us stayed in the Main Press Center (MPC), where press conferences took place every day, and the remaining four were out on the field interpreting for medal winners,” said Lee Eun-jeong. “We were very short on Korean interpreters. Since our athletes performed so well in sports where we did not expect a medal, schedules added up. I just remember running back and forth busily interpreting in front of the cameras,” said Lee. With their just-ended experience at Beijing, the Ewha Voice met the four heroines to hear about the breathtaking 17 days in Beijing.
During Park Tae-hwan’s 400 meter and 200 meter races, a woman squeezed between several different journalists had her eyes focused on the swimming pool anxiously wishing for Park’s victory. She counted to herself “50 meters, 100 meters…350 meters.” At last, Park’s final stroke reached the touch pad confirming his victory as a gold medalist. People were screaming, crying, and cheering. But she had no time for tears but had to go immediately to the International Broadcast Center to interpret for Park. “While I was interpreting for Park, I was amazed by how he was so comfortable in front of the media. Twenty or so cameras, innumerable journalists and bright flash lights were all focusing on him. Usually people, even a veteran like me, panic in the midst of all that attention. But Park, who is only 19 years old, handled it very well,” said Lee. Since Park was so popular among the Korean interpreters, Lee had to fight with her colleagues to interpret for him. “I think I did the right thing to fight for Park’s interpretation spot. Meeting Park and seeing so many other young athletes striving for their goal has truly inspired me,” said Lee.
Bae vividly remembers the interview with Choi Min-ho, the male judo athlete who won a gold medal in the 60kg extra-lightweight category. “It was one of the most emotional interviews for me,” said Bae. “Prior to the Olympics, we studied the sports rules, terminologies, along with the athlete’s background information. I was aware that Choi had a tough life as an athlete. His house was not rich enough to fully support him as an athlete and he was always a bronze medalist. But when Choi won the gold, he started to shed tears, making me, who knows his life as an athelete, become so absorbed and emotional as well,” said Bae.
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) told us we had to interpret for both South and North Korean athletes. At first we all hesitated for a moment since it might cause some problems,” said Lee. However, after receiving a promise from the IOC that they will take full responsibility, Lee interviewed a North Korean athlete, Park Hyon-suk, who won North Korea’s first weightlifting gold medal in the women’s 63kg division at the Beijing Olympics. “It was one of the most awkward moments during the Olympics. When answering the questions from the reporters, Park would always start her sentence with the phrase, ‘My dear General,” said Lee. Here, the “Dear General” refers to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il who is invariably called as "Dear Leader" or "Dear General" by his people. “The moment I translated this into English, the faces of other foreign interpreters looked pretty shocked. For a short moment, I hesitated if I should literally translate this or not. But I chose to do so and I think I did the right thing,” said Lee. Lee thought that by doing so, people around the world could know the unusual and serious situation of North Korea.
Among the four interpreters, Lee participated only during the preparation period, mainly doing interpretations in the Main Press Center. “Before the Olympics, there were lots of issues in China including the heavy pollution, the earthquake, and a lot more. I was mainly in charge of reporting and interpreting the situation of China to reporters,” said Lee. Lee could not stay for the Olympics since she had others work to do back in Korea. “I feel really unfortunate I was not there during the Olympics. My colleagues who came back from the Olympics told me how much fun they had. I hope I can take part in the next Olympics,” said Lee. Each of the four interpreters commented that they had a unforgettable time during the Olympics and hope Korean will be chosen as the official language during the upcoming Olympics.
By Hong Jee-won