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Angry Koreans Demand U.S. Swimmers Be Jailed

September 26, 1988 GMT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Angry South Koreans flooded police and newspapers with telephone calls today demanding that two American Olympic swimmers be given long jail sentences for theft.

Police said they received a flood of calls from people demanding U.S. gold medal swimmers Doug Gjertsen and Troy Dalbey be prosecuted on charges of stealing a marble lion’s head worth $830 from a Seoul hotel on Saturday.

The two, who were removed from the U.S. Olympic team for their antics, are to be questioned by police Tuesday. The Prosecutors’ Office will then decide whether to press charges.


Police officials, who declined to be named, said callers were demanding the Americans be jailed and warned authorities against letting them return home unpunished.

Seoul newpapapers, which referred to the incident under the headline ″Ugly Americans,″ said many readers were calling to complain. Papers backed the calls for tough treatment.

Gjertsen and Dalbey, who each won two gold medals, would face one year to 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of aggravated theft. U.S. Olympic officials said the incident was a foolish prank.

Seoul newspapers continued to bristle with denunciations of U.S. press coverage of the Olympics and South Korea. Commentators charged the U.S. media was trying to blacken the nation’s image.

Newspapers compared the swimmers to a brawl last Thursday when South Korean boxing officials attacked a referee after a Bulgarian boxer was named the winner over local favorite Byun Jong-il.

Byun and some officials were suspended for the incident.

″The U.S. media should know that such incidents have greatly hurt the pride of the Korean people who have worked hard to prepare for the Olympic Games for the past seven years, and as a result it is proliferating anti- American sentiments,″ said newspaper commentator Chung Tong-woo.

The Korean media and some government politicians have played up the arrest of the swimmers in an apparent attempt to divert attention from the boxing incident.

The media and many people have denounced NBC for its coverage of the incident, claiming the American television network played up the incident to embarrass South Korea.

Newspapers have complained that the U.S. media failed to focus on the incident involving the swimmers in the same way that it dwelt on the boxing incident.


″How is NBC, which reported the momentary violent act in the boxing in such a manner, going to explain the theft case involving athletes from its own country?″ Joong-Ang Ilbo said.

The boxing incident was extensively covered by television around the world. But NBC is the only foreign network seen in South Korea, where it is shown on a U.S. military network.

Newspapers have also complained that NBC is focusing on negative aspects of South Korean life, including poverty and prostitution.

″If we visit big cities like San Francisco and New York and report extensively on Harlem and beggars and drunks and drug addicts and play them up, how would they feel?″ asked Dong-a Ilbo.

Seoul newspapers have been running articles denouncing the United States and American athletes. Papers carried articles Monday playing up recent minor incidents, including some American soldiers refusing to pay a taxi driver.

The United States is South Korea’s main ally, but there has been some tension between the two nations over trade and political issues.

Some South Koreans claim Americans want to dominate them, but many observers say Korean resentment reflects growing pains as it emerges from years of dependence on Washington.