North’s twin marathoners chase gold at WorldsRunning a marathon is a solitary endeavor, but runners often benefit from having someone else who understands just how tough the sport can be.
In North Korea, there are two female marathoners who have been supporting each other, both on the course and in their everyday lives, since they were born.
Kim Hye-song and Kim Hye-gyong are twins, born in March 1993. Both are currently in Beijing to participate in the IAAF World Championship in Athletics. The women’s marathon is scheduled for Sunday.
This is the second time the Kim twins are running in the Worlds. At the 2013 Worlds in Moscow, the younger Hye-gyong finished eighth after clocking 2 hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds. Hye-song was 14th at 2:38:28.
North Korea has produced top-quality female marathoners in the past. Jung Sung-ok, the general manager of the North Korean team this Worlds, was the top finisher in the 1999 Worlds in Seville, Spain. In the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Ham Bong-sil took gold, and in the 2013 Asian Marathon Championship, Kim Kum-ok was the champion.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is known to be interested in football and weight lifting, but is also reportedly a fan of marathons because of the endurance and hard work they involve.
During a press conference at the 2013 Worlds in Moscow, manager Jung introduced the sisters as “our marshal’s precious darlings.”
According to the Choson Sinbo, a newspaper run by a North Korean community in Japan, the twins started running at the age of 14, influenced by their father, who was a marathon coach.
They became top performers in the three-kilometer and five-kilometer events, and switched to marathon at the age of 18 when they joined the Pyongyang Sports Club.
They ran five days a week, 25 to 30 kilometers (15.5 to 18.6 miles) a day, to train. The sisters became the country’s top marathoners in April 2014 when they claimed the top two spots with personal-best times at the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang.
Back then, Hye-gyong was the top finisher at 2:27:05, while older sister Hye-song crossed the finish line 53 seconds later. After the race, they held each other’s hands and greeted the cheering crowd of 42,000 at Kim Il Sung Stadium.
The two also raced together in the 2014 Asian Games. In Incheon, Hye-gyong was also slightly faster, clocking 2:36:38 for seventh, while Hye-song finished at 2:38:55 for ninth.
North Korea is hoping one of the sisters tops the podium this Worlds, which would be the first time since Jung in 1999.
Hye-gyong, the winner of the Hong Marathon in January, is considered to have a better shot at the title. Even the IAAF introduced her as this Worlds’ dark horse.
“We think not only Russia, but African runners from Kenya are our competitors,” said a North Korean official, who requested anonymity, on Monday in Beijing. “They had injuries before the event, but they now have good fighting spirit and are ready to race.”
Jung is also anticipating strong performances from the women.
“Pak Chol finished 11th in the men’s marathon and that’s my fault,” Jung said. “In the women’s marathon, we will produce good results.”
BY KIM JI-HAN, JOO KYUNG-DON [firstname.lastname@example.org]