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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

South Korean athletes seek Olympic gold to avoid military service

Pressure grows to change rule that can destroy careers of players and pop stars

South Korea's Son Heung-min shoots at goal in a World Cup qualifier in Seoul on June 5. Son was granted an exemption to military service by helping his country win gold at the 2018 Asian Games.

SEOUL -- The uncertainty over this summer's Tokyo Olympics has an extra urgency for South Korean athletes. For many of the 200 or so Olympians who will make the short trip east to the Japanese capital, a medal is not the only prize available.

All able-bodied South Korean males are required to start their 20-month military service by the time they reach 28 but they can receive exemption if they collect a medal at the Olympics. The rule came into effect in 1973, when the government was looking to boost the country's global prestige.

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