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North Korean Marathoner Who Kept Her Word

Posted October. 13, 2002 23:02,   


North Korean woman Ham Bong-sil (28) won the championship in the women’s marathon of Busan Asian Games.

In the Oct. 13th marathon race, whose full course reaches 42.195 km starting from and returning to the Main Stadium via Suhmyun and Haewoondae, she, demonstrating her powerful spurt all the time, won the gold medal with a record of 2 hours 33 minutes and 35 seconds.

This is the first time North Korean athlete has ever won the gold medal in marathon ever since it was officially adopted as part of the Asian Games in ‘82 New Deli Games. In ’98 Bangkok Asian Games, North Korean athlete Kim Chang-ok won the silver medal.

On Oct. 14th, which is the last day of this Asian Games, South Korean man Lee Bong-joo is challenging for the gold medal. If he wins this time, it will be his second medal in a row. Listening to the news about Ham, Lee commented, “I will surely win it and, thus, make marathon a festival between two Koreas.”

Ham, from the start, was determined to demonstrate the ethnic power of the Koreans. In the uphill leg which stretched after the 40 km point, Ham showed off the superhuman power and put a long distance of 350m between her and Hiroyama Harumi (Japan, 2H34M44S) who maintained the second place in the race. From the leg, she secured her gold medal. Entering the Main Stadium with the thundering cheering of South and North Korean fans, she finished up 500m. Just before finishing up the race, she raised her arms into the air to return her fans’ support. Then, she passed the finish line.

Ham’ winning was one of a psychological war. Her best record was 2 hours 26 minutes and 12 seconds, ranking the 6th among the participants. Thus, she waged a pressuring tactic of closely following the leading marathoner during the race. The weather was 23Cº., creating a little hot environment for the race. Passing the 18km point, she left behind Liwoomin (China), who most people predicted would win the race. Thereafter, she passed ahead of South Korea’s Kwon Eun-joo and Oh Mi-ja, and North Kroea’s Kim Chang-ok.

From 21.5 km, Ham and Hiromi were waging a fierce neck-and-neck race, possibly the most interesting part of the whole race. Ham followed wherever and whatever Hiroma did. If Hiromi, for example, turned her direction, Ham also turned thereto. Around 32.5 km of the race, Ham caught up with and passed ahead of Hiromi, who, by that time, appeared totally exhausted. For the next remaining 10 km, no one was around or ahead of her—it was her solo-race.

Hwang Gyu-hoon, the coach of Kunkook Univ., said, “In the marathon, the leading athlete feels being chased and agitated. The feeling becomes more severe when other athlete is following closely behind. In the end, the leading player is likely to lose his/her pace. What Ham used this time is this mentality.” North Korean coach Kim Hae said, “Ham’s record is 3-4 minutes behind those of the other leading marathoners in this game. So, I told her just to follow up to 35 km. From there, I asked her, she would pitch in her best. Actually, I was worried. She started out too early. But she was right.”

In the meanwhile, South Korea’s Oh Mi-ja finished up 4th(2H26M12S), and North Korea’s Kim Chang-ok ranked 5th (2H43M17S). Kwon Eun-joo, who holds the Korean record of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 12 seconds, gave up the race at around 37 km.

Jong-Koo Yang yjongk@donga.com