BARCELONA ’92 OLYMPICS / DAY 16 : In the Long Run, It’s Vindication : Marathon: As the 1936 winner watches, Hwang Young Cho of South Korea beats Japan’s Morishita.
In the minds of South Koreans, history corrected itself in the men’s marathon Sunday.
The last time a Korean had won this race was in 1936, when Japanese troops occupied his nation. In that Olympic marathon, Sohn Kee Chung was forced to wear a Japanese uniform and take a Japanese name, Kitei Son. When he won the 26.2-mile race, the Japanese flag was raised and the Japanese anthem played.
Hwang Young Cho was running in another time, another place and for only part of Korea, the south, but somehow the stakes were the same. Hwang ran the marathon’s last three miles up the hill toward Montjuic Stadium. Beside him was Koichi Morishita of Japan.
The two runners were locked into reaching the summit first, into rounding the track once and climbing to the top of the medal platform.
They ran their hardest when the running was most difficult. Hwang ran with teeth grinding and arms pumping. Slowly he pulled away. By the hill’s crest, he had left Morishita.
Korea had won its medal, 56 years later, to the day.
After winning, Hwang collapsed and was taken from the track on a stretcher. Minutes later he stood at attention on the awards stand, gazed at his nation’s flag and heard his nation’s anthem.
“In 1936, my (countrymen) had to listen to the Japanese anthem,” Hwang said. “That was a painful moment. This year, in 1992, I watched them raise the (South) Korean flag. I was very happy and very moved.”
Hwang led a group of five Asian runners into the top 10. Hiromi Taniguchi of Japan, the world champion, placed eighth after falling at a water station and losing a shoe. Kim Jae Yong of South Korea was 10th after remaining with the leaders for 22 miles.
Hwang’s time was 2 hours 13 minutes 23 seconds. Morishita was second in 2:13:45 and Stephan Freigang of Germany out-kicked Takeyuki Nakayama of Japan for the bronze medal. Freigang’s time was 2:14.
Hwang won the hard way, by pushing on the hills and breaking the spirit of the other runners. That was a task made easier by the heat, humidity and the grueling three-mile climb. At race time the temperature was 90 degrees with 40% humidity; at 6:30 p.m., an hour later, the temperature had dropped to 77, but the humidity had shot to 72%.
All that conspired to keep the pace conservative for the first half of the race. For those runners who hoped a group would go out fast, then fade, their time to kick never arrived.
“Things were perfect until the gun went off,” Steve Spence said. “That ruined my game plan. Someone was supposed to take the lead pack through the half at 1:04, and I was going to clean up the scraps.”
Spence, of Chambersburg, Pa., ended up with the scraps. He was the first American finisher, placing 12th in 2:15:21. Ed Eyestone of Layton, Utah, was 13th in 2:15:23, and Bob Kempainen of Norwich, Vt., was 17th in 2:15:23.
“We all figured 2:15 would be right in it,” Eyestone said. “As it turned out, we ran 2:15, and it was right out of it.”
The lead pack became about 20 runners, and the break came at the halfway mark. Salvatore Bettiol of Italy surged and gained ground. But the lead was short-lived. Morishita led a counterattack and Bettiol faded. He finished fifth.
The pace in the second half of the race was markedly faster. Hwang, Morishita and Kim ran in a bunch, with the two South Koreans working together to test Morishita. Kim was overtaken by Nakayama and Freigang.
Hwang and Morishita matched strides up the long hill.
Behind them, the field was stringing out, victims of the heat and the hill.
“There was a who’s who of dead bodies,” Eyestone said. “But there were people to take their place.”
Hwang burst from the tunnel and into the stadium to a roar. His final lap around the track was punctuated by his raised arms and clenched fists. In the crowd was Sohn Kee Chung, now 80.
“When I got on the awards stand,” Hwang said, “my life flashed before my eyes. My childhood. I thought of my mother. All of Korea has helped me. I am so proud.”
GOLD: Hwang Young Cho (South Korea)
SILVER: Koichi Morishita (Japan)
BRONZE: Stephan Freigang (Germany)