Every year, the government of North Korea holds a marathon to honor the birthday of the departed Great Leader himself, Kim Il Sung. This being North Korea, you'd think they rig the race so that some fortunate son comes in first, but it actually seems to be run legitimately. Never mind that none of the top runners in the world would even consider coming to Pyongyang for it. Only about a dozen countries participate, but hey, it appears everyone has a chance of winning.
This year's race, held last Sunday, was especially celebratory in that it was honoring the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung. The race finished inside of Kim Il Sung Stadium, in front of 100,000 screaming, likely severely malnourished patrons. With 100 meters to go, North Korea's Pak Song Chol, who had won the race twice before, was in the lead. Surely, he couldn't blow this.
Enter 28-year-old Oleksandr Matviichuk of Ukraine. He's not an elite runner, but he's had some success somewhere with the running of long distances. Well, he had been dominating most of the race when he "apparently thought he had won the race" and started slacking off. That's when Pak made his move, erasing a 59-second lead with less than a mile and a half to go. Matviichuk, to his credit, recovered in time to nip Pak at the finish line. Both were timed at 2:12:54, but Matviichuk won by a nose.
The official state-run press of North Korea didn't quite capture that drama in its official report:
The IAAF-25th Mangyongdae Prize Marathon took place here on Sunday.
It is an annual event to mark the birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.
It brought together marathoners from more than 10 countries and regions including the DPRK, China, Russia, Namibia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine and Kenya.
At the race Oleksandr Matviichuk (male) and Kim Mi Gyong (female) of the DPRK came first, Pak Song Chol (male) and Kim Hye Gyong (female) of the DPRK second and a Kenyan runner (male) and Jong Kyong Hui (female) of the DPRK third.
Trophy cups, medals and certificates were awarded to the successful runners.
For the record, Morris Mureithi Mwangi was the Kenyan Runner Who Would Not Be Named.
And after the event, it was reported by state-run press that Kim Jong Un received a thank you letter from all the participants of the race:
It is a great honor and pleasure for us to participate in this event which is organized to celebrate the centenary of birth of the Great Leader President Kim Il Sung.
We are aware that the last year was the saddest day for the Korean people as they lost their Great Leader General Kim Jong Il so suddenly and so unexpectedly.
The exploits made by Kim Jong Il for the prosperity and happiness of the Korean people will last forever and he will always be with us.
We wish Korean people a great success in building strong and powerful nation, concluded the letter.