In a major marathon upset, Kim Hye Gyong of the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea won the Standard Chartered Hong Marathon early Sunday morning. In doing so, Kim beat the otherwise all-conquering East Africans, won the Asian championship, which was being run concurrently, and put herself in line for selection for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this summer. If successful there, Kim would be the first north Korean to win the world title since her compatriot Jong Song-ok’s similarly surprising victory in Seville 1999.
Once the 22 year old Kim made a break at 30k on a relatively cool (15-18C), but windy and humid morning, it became clear that the pursuing Ethiopians and Kenyans were not going to catch her; and she ran out an easy winner, by over two minutes, in 2.31.46. Meskerem Assefa of Ethiopia was second in 2.33.57, with her colleague, Tsehay Desalegn third in 2.34.06.
The men’s race followed a now conventional script, or rather it did so after 32k, when the East African pack engulfed the runaway leader, Shingo Igarashi of Japan. Sentayehu Merga only got the better of Ethiopian compatriot, Fikre Assefa in the final kilometre, winning in 2.13.00, with Fikre five seconds behind. Former world junior cross and 10,000 metres champion, Robert Kipkorir Kipchumba, who led the chase for Igarashi paid for his initiative into the strong wind, when he couldn’t hold the Ethiopians in the final stages, and finished third in 2.13.07. But so tight was the pack until the final stages that the top ten finished within 50sec, and 15 finishers within two minutes.
Igarashi, who makes a habit of leading early in marathons, finished outside the top ten, but his effort was good enough to win the Asian men’s title, in 2.14.29. Pak Chol of DPRK was second in that event, in 2.16.09, and Olonbayor Jamsaran of Mongolia was third, in 2.22.49.
In theory the Pyongyang Marathon, in the capital city of the DPRK in April serves as the selection race for the world championships, but North Korean team officials accompanying Kim in Hong Kong said that since she had won Pyongyang last year, and finished eighth in the previous world champs in Moscow in 2013, this Asian and open marathon victory might prove sufficient to give her a free pass into Beijing this summer.
The women’s race could have been even more interesting had Kim’s twin sister, Kim Hye Song been able to compete, but a left hamstring injury has prevented her from training recently. Hye Song was second in Pyongyang last year; and the pair are the leading lights in north Korean women’s marathoning, along with Kim Mi Gyong (no relation), who won the national title in 2012/3, (and finished third behind the twins last year). Mi Gyong finished second in the Asian Championship today, in 2.36.08. Third in that parallel event was Gulzhanat Zhanatbek of Kazakhstan, in 2.38.36.
The Kim twins originate in Sariwon City, in north Hwanghae province in the DPRK, and began running at middle school, when they were 14. After showing early promise they transferred to the capital, Pyongyang two years later, and have been part of the distance running squad since then. One can only speculate, but should the Kim trio win all three medals in Beijing in the summer, who knows, someone in Hollywood might make a movie about it?