Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Seoul international Marathon 17th March 2007

The 78th Dong-A marathon as it is also known was held yesterday in the South Korean capital. Held the day after St Patrick’s Day there were surely a few spectators who were destined to not make it to the 8am start and of the many who did a few (mostly westerners) looked as though they should have stayed in bed.

The coinciding of the event with the universally celebrated saint’s day was tough luck for some people who I’m sure would have us believe they would have competed if it hadn’t been for the date clash.

From my room on the 16th floor of the Seoul plaza, I had a magnificent view of Seoul and the starting point for the Marathon. From 6am the roads were closed and final preparations were put in place for the start, the weather was fantastic for the thousands of runners taking part, a bright and dry day with a gentle breeze keeping the temperature down a little. The runners started turning up at around 6am and the buzz of excitement and nervousness was in the air.

At 8am the elite runners set off with their ears ringing from a combination of the booming microphone of the compere, who seemed hell bent on getting heard and the mini firework display that signalled the start of the race. The others followed at 5 minute intervals ranked in groups according to their ability. The participants ran south from City Hall under the watchful gaze of Admiral Yi Sun Shin, the Korean mastermind behind the victories against the Japanese navy during their invasions of Korea.

The route, which started at the statue of the Korean hero and finished in the Jamsil Olympic stadium, has been called scenic and personal highlights from competitors in the past have included crossing the Han River and entering the Olympic stadium to see yourself on the big screen crossing the finish line.

The $80,000 first prize and the $300,000 prize for breaking the world record were distant dreams for most participants but there were a few who would fancy their chances.

Two of these hopefuls were Korea’s Lee Bong-Ju and Ji Young-Jun and both were cheered on ferociously by the patriotic crowd in Seoul. Bong-Ju, who finished 5th in this race in 2004 and won the Boston marathon in 2001 will be one of the older members of the elite runners at 36. In contrast Young-Jun at 25 was another Korean hope, with 4th, 6th and 2nd place finishes in this race in the past he was sure to be near the top of the field come 10:07 am.

After doubling back on themselves on the cheonggyecheon stream in the heart of the city, the route then moved south east, near the children’s grand park, past the Seoul forest, finally crossing over the Jamsil Bridge and into the Olympic stadium for a triumphant final lap of the old stadium.

The stadium, which has capacity for around 69,000 seating spectators was built to be the center piece for the 1988 Olympics and took 7 years to construct. It does have somewhat of a chequered past as it was here in 1988 that the infamous Ben Johnson cheated his way to Olympic gold and Sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner won three gold medals and a silver on the track.

The stadium also hosted that year’s football final with the USSR beating the mighty Brazil 2:1 but it was overlooked as a venue for the 2002 FIFA world cup.

The atmosphere around the stadium was carnival-esque with fast food stalls and refreshment stands all ready to serve up Korean treats to the competitors and their supporters after the marathon. The sight of the huge Olympic rings motif on the outside of the stadium must have signalled a long awaited rest was just around the corner for some weary legs, but at the same time also gave a much needed burst of adrenalin to flagging combatants and helped them drag their tired bodies over the finish line. As with all events of this magnitude there were inevitably casualties, some poor souls (forgive the pun) were transported to the stadium via ambulance and hobbled into the stadium to cheer on their running brethren.

With number 3 on his vest Lee Bong-Ju was destined to finish well in the Seoul marathon but his finish was 2 places better than his shirt number suggested, the veteran Bong-Ju Lee crossed the line in 2:08:04 and took the $80,000 first prize, not only that but it was also the fastest marathon time in the world this year. His time put him joint 174th in the all time world marathon times. This isn’t his first entry into the list either, he comes in at 117 too, a feat achieved in Rotterdam in 1998.When you think that only 3 minutes and 17 seconds separate the top 200 times then you realise how impressive it is to even get into this elite field.
The Cheonan native defied the odds to finish ahead of Kenya’s Kirui by a full 25 seconds. Another Kenyan runner Laban Kipkemboi came third, 9 seconds behind Kirui.
The woman’s race was won by China’s Wei Yanan with a time of 2:23:12, again the fastest time this year.

The crowds got a victory on home soil and everyone headed toward the subway station right next to the stadium happy. The station was incredibly but predictably busy after the race and some of the carriages had the distinct odours of pride, accomplishment and sweat. The race seemed to be a success and a good day was had by all especially Lee Bong-Ju who I’m sure celebrated in true Korean style with some grilled meat and copious amounts of soju. Then again maybe not.


1 Lee Bong-Ju KOR 2:08:04
2 Paul Kiptanui KEN 2:08:29
3 Laban Kipkemboi KEN 2:08:38
4 Edwin Komen KEN 2:08:45
5 Jason Mbote KEN 2:10:32
6 Dmytro Baranovsky UKR 2:10:51

1 Wei Yanan CHN 2:23:12
2 Rose Cheruiyot KEN 2:27:25
3 Hellen Cherono KEN 2:29:33
4 Thabita Tsatsa ZIM 2:30:12
5 Worknesh Tola ETH 2:30:56
6 Chae Eun-Hee KOR 2:32:01

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