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Before Hellish Race, Olympic Runners Go on “Hell’s Diet”

Before Hellish Race, Olympic Runners Go on “Hell’s Diet”

Posted August. 26, 2004 22:00,   


“Bongdari” Lee Bong-ju (34, Samsung Electronics) ate nothing but porridge for dinner on August 25. On August 26, he will eat sticky rice, and on August 27, black bean noodles.

The 2004 Athens Olympic marathon is quickly approaching, and it seems hardly enough to eat foods that are packed with nutrients. So why is he eating porridge and noodles? It is because of “hell’s diet.”

Lee ate six meals of meat and water starting August 23. This will be his 33rd attempt (which he completed 31 times) on the full course. It seems he would get used to it by now, but the diet still “tastes like death” to him. After a while, even eating the best cut of meat feels like chewing on rubber. Training is training, and he has to do what it takes, but his nerves are as sharp as a needlepoint. The required eight meals of meat have been reduced to six because the Athens heat may lead to exhaustion. Lee is waiting for his black bean noodles. Eating the noodles stimulates his appetite and increases his conditioning. Coach Au In-hwan (45, Samsung Electronics) said, “Made from flour, black bean noodles have a lot of carbohydrates and are suitable for his diet.”

The “next generation runner,” Ji Young-joon (23, Kolon), who is competing in the marathon with Lee, is on a similar diet. The only difference is that he will eat two more meals of protein. Ji is making his sixth attempt at the full course. He is less experienced with being on the diet than Lee, and he is at an age of thriving appetite, so the suffering seems greater for him.

Lee and Ji were once both sponsored by Kolon Industries, and under the tutelage of the late Coach Jung Bong-soo, shared the same meals. Coach Jung first introduced the special dieting method to Korea.

The body naturally seeks to store what it has been missing (a compensatory mechanism). The dieting method takes advantage of this. Three days of eating meat and water strips the muscles of glycogen. Then, eating carbohydrates for three days maximally stores the glycogen.

Lee Bong-joo and Ji Young-joon will pursue the marathon’s highest honor at midnight on August 30.

Jong-Koo Yoon yjongk@donga.com