Marathoner tests track, a piece at a timeATHENS ― It’s 5 a.m., and Korean marathoner Lee Bong-ju is gazing across the still dusky track. In a couple of weeks, he will be running for the gold in this very same spot.
Only four days to go until the 2004 Athens Olympics get under way, and the 33-year-old marathoner is gearing himself up with a mock run at the crack of dawn.
Lee is standing in what many are referring to as the toughest part of this year’s course, the 15- to 33-kilometer stretch.
He has seen this track before, in September 2003, when he traced the route by car, studying the course and picturing himself running it in his mind.
According to official Olympic regulations, marathoners are not allowed to run the course in full before race day but can run parts of it.
Lee decided dawn would be the perfect time to test himself on some of the more difficult uphill sections before traffic gets busy.
“I don’t usually run early in the morning, but I feel good about this. I should do this more often,” he said.
When asked how the preparations have been going, he said, “I think positively and constantly take care of my body, so my physical condition is at its best now.”
About an hour into the practice run, Lee passed the Greek broadcasting company EPT, which is the finishing point for the race. He slowed down as if to stop, but suddenly found a burst of energy and continued for several more meters after seeing his coach, Oh In-hwan, in a car ahead of him.
Praising Lee’s running style, his coach said the runner is very determined when it comes to focusing his training and achieving his goals, and that’s one of the reasons that makes Lee Bong-ju special.
“But this course is full of uphill climbs,” said Oh. “The 31-kilometer point is the last slope, and it will probably kill runners. I am thinking they will need a time of around two hours and 12 minutes to win a medal.”
The weather will be critical to winning the race, Oh said. Though runners will start at 6 in the morning, Oh is still worried.
On the day of the marathon, temperatures are expected to hit 29 to 32 degrees centigrade (84 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit), but the temperature on the asphalt will be well up in the 30-degree range.
When the JoongAng Ilbo visited the marathon course on July 5, the temperature was approximately 34 degrees at six in the evening.
Oh said his star athlete copes well with the hot weather. The trainer is hoping that in the end, it will work in Lee’s favor as a possible winning difference.
Lee arrived in Greece on Thursday. He is now training in the city of Thiva, which is about 100 kilometers from Athens.
He will finish his speed training by Friday and check into the Athens Olympic Village on Aug. 27, two days before the men’s marathon.
by Kim Jong-moon
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