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Veteran Marathoner Retires After 20-year Career

Posted March. 16, 2009 09:48,   


“My fellow Koreans, thank you. Had it not been for your support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Lee Bong-ju passed the finish line at the Seoul International Marathon yesterday full of emotion. His look changed every minute, smiling at one time and then growing sullen in another as if his moments of joy and despair were passing in a panorama.

Before anyone noticed it, the veteran marathoner recovered his energy in expressing his fans’ love for him. “I’ve been able to go on until now because of the Korean people’s applause,” he said, thanking his fans for their support over his 20-year marathon career.

For Koreans, Lee is more than just a marathoner. He has served as an inspiration for his quiet diligence.

He monopolized Koreans’ attention. Runner Moses Arusei from Kenya was far ahead as the leader, but Seoulites chanted, “Go, Bong-ju!”

At 39 years old, his age showed in his running. He finished 14th with a time of two hours, 16 minutes and 46 seconds, his sixth longest time.

He trained for about four months in Jeju Island and Jangheung, South Jeolla Province, as he always has. His condition was far from his best, however. He fell back into the second group early in the race, and from there, he simply focused on completing the course.

“I didn’t want to show my fans that I was giving up,” he said. “I felt like racing against the Kenyan runners, but decided to run at my own pace. Still, I feel exhausted and relieved at the same time. Now I will prepare for my future feeling comfortable.”

Lee called life after retirement “a new beginning.” Though having no specific plan, he said he wanted to contribute to the development of Korean marathoners, suggesting that he could go into coaching.

The Korea Athletics Federation plans to hire him as a coach for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics to be held in Daegu in 2011.

Citing his silver medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and his win in the 2001 Boston Marathon as his best memories, Lee expressed both fear and optimism over the future of Korean marathoners.

With 20 years of experience of running a "beautiful race," Lee will be a teacher to guide the next generation of Korean marathoners.