North Korean to go it alone in HK marathon
Four years ago, North Koreans Kim Kum-ok and Jong Yong-ok crossed the finish line hand-in-hand at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, a sight never seen before in the race.
Kim showed great respect to her elder and hoped they would both be declared winners, but it was the then 19-year-old who was later crowned the champion. There was more than glory at stake - both won tickets to the Beijing Olympics.
A year later Kim returned to win the half-marathon at the East Asia Games and tomorrow attempts to to win again in Hong Kong. She will not have Jong for 'company', but a contingent of African runners.
'I am happy to come back to race in Hong Kong, a place that has given me a lot of good memories,' said Kim, who finished 12th at the Beijing Games. 'My country is still in winter and the conditions are too difficult for serious training. I want to use this race as part of my build-up for the London Games.'
Kim has a personal best of two hours, 27 minutes and 34 seconds, set at the 2010 Pyongyang Marathon, and the time is close to a group of Africans headed by Ethiopian Misiker Demissie and Kenyan Rose Nyangacha, winner of the 2011 Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon.
Demissie, who finished second in the 2010 Los Angeles Marathon, holds a personal best of 2:25:21, while Nyangacha's best is 2:29:22.
'There are also a couple of other Ethiopians who can finish within two hours and 28 minutes, making the race an exciting event,' said Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association chairman Kwan Kee.
'It was very difficult to bring Kim here because of visa and communication problems with her country. We almost lost contact with her and we also needed to take all the immigration papers to the North Korea Embassy in Beijing.
'We think all this effort is worth it as we are expecting a great race between her and the African runners.'
In the men's marathon, defending champion Nelson Rotich was steeling himself for another tough race. The Kenyan finished last year's race in 2:16:00, far off his personal best of 2:10:13 at the 2009 Chuenchon Chosunilbo in South Korea, but a reflection of the tough course and conditions in Hong Kong.
'You need strong determination and a lot of hard work to win in Hong Kong,' he said. 'There are a lot of good runners with quality times and the course is very difficult as we need to go over bridges and through tunnels. It's going to be tough.'
Rotich's main threat is likely to come from countryman Kiplimo Maisei, runner-up last year and winner of last year's Macau International Marathon in 2:12:53. Other challengers include two Ethiopians, Tsefave Bekele, who finished third last year, and Haile Gemeda, who has a personal best time of 2:09:20.
The local challenge will be led by Lai Hok-yan in the men's race and Chan Kit-yee in the women's race.
Organisers have warned participants of a change in weather tomorrow, with a maximum temperature of 20 degrees Celsius and humidity between 75 and 95 per cent forecast. 'As the temperature goes up, runners need to take sufficient water supply and if they feel uncomfortable, they must stop and wait for medical assistance,' William Ko Wai-lam, chairman of the organising committee, said.