Hong Kong Marathon 2015

North Korea best as Kim Hye-gyong fends off African challenge to win women’s marathon

North Korean shrugs off absence of her twin to fend off Africans and give herself a huge boost of making world championships in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 6:09pm

With her twin sister and running partner staying at home in Pyongyang, Kim Hye-gyong took on the powerful Africans single-handed yesterday and pulled off a surprise victory in the women’s marathon.

The last time a woman from North Korea won the race was in 2008 when Kim Kum-ok and Jong Yong-ok crossed the finish line locked together in what appeared to be a dead heat. It was a politically correct move, although Kim was awarded the race afterwards by perplexed organisers.

They dedicated their success to their “Dear Leader”. Not the case this time as the Kim of 2015 was only looking ahead to the future, believing her success on the streets of Hong Kong could prove to be a watershed moment for her and her country as they look forward to the world championships in Beijing in August.

I was confident that I could beat the Africans. Defeating them will do my confidence a whole deal of good
Kim Hye-gyong

“I’m really happy with this victory. I was confident that I could beat the Africans,” Kim said.

“Defeating them will do my confidence a whole deal of good, especially if I’m picked to represent my country at the world championships,” Kim, 23, said.

The diminutive Kim grabbed the spoils – and a winner’s cheque of US$65,000 – with a determined effort of two hours 31 minutes and 46 seconds, well short of her personal best of 2:26.32 when she won the Pyongyang marathon in 2013.

Together with her twin sister, she has been part of the North Korean national squad. From Sariwon City, the sisters began running when they were 14.

In second place was Ethiopian Meskerem Assfa Wondimag in 2:33.57, while compatriot Tsehay Desalegn Adhana finished third in 2:34.06.

“She caught us by surprise. We didn’t expect her to finish so strongly,” said Wondimag.

For Kim, the win also meant she was crowned Asian champion with the race doubling up as the regional showpiece. In this category, she was nearly five minutes ahead of her closest challenger, another North Korean, Kim Mi-gyong, and almost seven minutes in front of Kazakhstan’s Gulzhanat Zhanatbek.

“This is the first time I have run in Hong Kong and I turned up only because this race was also doubling up as the Asian Championship.

“Winning this was my main goal but winning the overall title, and also beating a strong African contingent, is good for me,” Kim said through an interpreter.

Kim was accompanied by the country’s national coach as they look towards the world championships in Beijing.

“I’m uncertain if this win is enough to seal my place at the world championships. I might have to run in our national championships in April to qualify. But I feel this is a major accomplishment and will boost my hopes of victory in Beijing [if I’m picked],” Kim said.

Kim made her move at the 30-kilometre mark and then left the Africans in her wake.

“This is a huge win for North Korea. The last time a woman from North Korea won the world championships was in 1999 in Seville [Spain]. Maybe this could be Kim’s year,” said Pat Butcher, a journalist who closely follows the marathon scene.