Naturalized marathoner’s times won’t count for 3 years

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Naturalized marathoner’s times won’t count for 3 years

Even if Oh Joo-han, a Kenyan-born marathoner now running for Korea, sets a record for his adopted country later this month, it won’t be recognized for three years.

The Korea Association of Athletics Federations (KAAF) said Thursday it will apply a three-year waiting period on all times posted by Oh. Born Wilson Loyanae Erupe, Oh, 30, acquired Korean citizenship last August, and will make his first appearance as a naturalized runner at the Seoul International Marathon on March 17.

Oh was scheduled to run at the Gyeongju International Marathon in Gyeongju, 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of the capital, last October, but withdrew just before the race’s start.

The current Korean record of 2:07:20 was set by former Olympic silver medalist Lee Bong-ju in 2000. Ji Young-jun, who put up a time of 2:08:54 in 2004, has come the closest to that mark in the 19 years since Lee established his record. No Korean has come in under the 2:10:00 mark since Jeong Jin-hyeok’s 2:09:28 in 2011.

Oh’s personal best is 2:05:13, set at the Seoul International Marathon in March 2016. The following year, he ran the same race in 2:06:57.

Oh could threaten Lee’s long-standing record this month, but the KAAF said it based its decision on a new rule by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on transfers of allegiance. Athletes must now wait three years after switching allegiance before they can represent their adopted country.

Previously, athletes who hadn’t represented their native countries only had to wait one year to compete for their adopted country. Oh would have been allowed to run for Korea starting in August 2019.

Under the new IAAF rules, though, he’ll only start running for Korea in August 2021.

“Oh Joo-han is a Korean athlete, but we have to take a careful approach to recognizing his records,” a KAAF official said. “We studied the IAAF rules and decided on the three-year waiting period.”

Another official said Oh is good enough to break Korean records in long-distance track events, such as 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, if he chooses to compete in them.

Oh’s pursuit of a Korean passport was a contentious issue in the local athletics community for years. Some said he could provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Korean marathon running, which has stagnated in recent years.

On the other hand, critics said they’d rather see homegrown runners, not foreign-born athletes, revive the once-proud marathon tradition.

Oh Chang-seok, a former men’s national marathon coach who helped the Kenyan-born runner with his naturalization, said Joo-han is just happy to compete for Korea and wants to have a good competition before local fans, whether or not his record is recognized right away.

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