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North Korea cancels Pyongyang marathon for fifth straight year

North Korea has called off its annual international marathon for the fifth consecutive year, but could reschedule the event for later in 2024 as the isolated country gradually eases longstanding border restrictions.

The Pyongyang Marathon Committee confirmed that the Pyongyang International Marathon will not be held as scheduled in April, North Korea-focused travel company and official event partner Koryo Tours announced in a blog post on Tuesday.

First held in 1981, the event has traditionally taken place around the time of founding leader Kim Il Sung’s birth anniversary on April 15, commemorated in the DPRK as the Day of the Sun, but a lack of time to prepare ahead of the national holiday appears to have prompted this year’s cancellation.

Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, told NK News that the organizers did not give a specific reason for calling off the marathon, but added that they likely faced challenges in including enough elite foreign runners required to stage a World Athletics Bronze Label event.

“As this cannot be confirmed, and as time is getting closer, it is likely they just decided that the correct operation of the race couldn’t be guaranteed,” he said.

The Pyongyang International Marathon last took place in 2019, with subsequent editions canceled as the country completely shut its borders in Jan. 2020 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, according to the Koryo Tours blog post, there is still “a glimmer of hope” for those keen to participate in the race as it could be held later this year, likely in September or October.

Cockerell stated that the potential rescheduling remains under discussion and organizers have yet to officially confirm the September-October timeline, which could partly depend on when North Korea eases its stringent border restrictions for foreign visitors.

The DPRK has yet to fully reopen to foreigners despite occasional exceptions since last year for engagement with close partners Russia and China.

However, a Vladivostok travel agency may soon open the door for the return of visitors from overseas with a group tour scheduled for February, which could serve as a trial run ahead of reported plans to resume regular tourism in April.

The Pyongyang International Marathon has been a popular attraction for tourists since the event started allowing foreign amateurs to enter in 2014, but Koryo Tours stressed that the cancellation should not be seen as an indicator of when North Korea will reopen for tourists.

Noting that the marathon took place for decades without tourists, Cockerell views the lack of elite foreign athletes as the bigger barrier.

“If tourism resumes tomorrow, or soon, or before the April planned date for the race, then it still will be canceled,” he said. “I believe it is simply down to not [having] enough time remaining to organize such an event.”

Cockerell added that the marathon’s organizers have no inside knowledge or influence regarding the border reopening, but welcomed their openness to the idea of postponing it until later in the year.

“It is the one marathon in the country, after all, and there is a motive to use it to give competitive practice to possible international-level runners from the DPRK,” he said. “So I’m sure the relevant organs there very much want it to go ahead somehow.”

While Pyongyang has called off its high-profile marathon for now, a scheduled women’s soccer match between the DPRK and Japan in late February could present a valuable opportunity to gauge the country’s readiness to host international sporting events.

State media has not yet confirmed the match will go ahead as scheduled at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium, but if it does, it will mark the first time foreign sportspersons are allowed to enter North Korea since before the pandemic.

(01/24/2024) Views: 273 ⚡AMP
by Alannah Hill
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Pyongyang Marathon

Pyongyang Marathon

This race can be run either as a full marathon or as a half marathon. There is also a 10km race and a 5km race. Hundreds of local runners take part as well as some elite foreign runners. Anyone taking part in this tour who wants to watch the marathon instead of take part in it is more than welcome...

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North Korea has canceled the Pyongyang Marathon due to coronavirus fears

North Korean authorities have decided to cancel the upcoming annual April Pyongyang marathon, travel companies told NK News on Friday, amid concerns about the potential spread of the novel coronavirus within the country’s territory.

The event — typically held to coincide with North Korea’s “Day of the Sun” national holiday and known officially as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon — was set to take place on April 12, according to Koryo Tours, which organizes the event in cooperation with local partners.

“We received official notice from the National Olympic Committee of DPR Korea today that the 2020 Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon is canceled due to the ongoing border closure and COVID-19 situation in the region,” Marcus McFarland, Pyongyang Marathon and North Korea tour manager at the company, said in a statement.

“We had been in discussions about rescheduling the event to later in the year, but in the end they decided it was better to cancel instead,” he continued. “We had over 400 runners booked for the marathon ourselves (excluding other companies), and greatly appreciate their patience and understanding while we worked on getting updates for them.”

Another tour company confirmed the news, reporting that authorities had chosen to call off the event due to ongoing fears of an outbreak of the novel coronavirus — fears which have in recent weeks seen the country effectively shut its borders and implement a 30-day quarantine on those in-country.

“We have received confirmation from our travel partners in North Korea that the Pyongyang Marathon (Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon) held in April has been canceled due to the current borders of the DPRK being closed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) virus,” the Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) company said in a statement on its website.

“We will be in touch with our tourists who have booked with us on this event,” the statement continued, adding that the company’s annual Fall marathon is still set to go ahead.

The Pyongyang marathon, open to foreign participants since 2000, takes place annually, attracting thousands of runners from around the world.

Hundreds had signed up for this year’s event so far, Simon Cockerell, general manager at Koryo Tours, told NK News, though some had reportedly anticipated that, given the ongoing ban on foreign tourism into North Korea, the event would not go ahead.

“It’s not completely unexpected, there was consideration given to moving it but in the end they seem to have decided best to cancel the whole thing. Next one will be April 11th 2021,” Cockerell said.

“Of course quite a number had dropped out already before the event cancellation,” he explained. “I don’t think anyone will find this mind-blowingly surprising, just disappointing really.”

A previous ban on tourism into North Korea from late 2014 to early 2015 — prompted by authorities fears of an outbreak of the Ebola virus — also saw foreigners barred from participating in the marathon, a decision that was later reversed at the last minute.

(02/22/2020) Views: 1,341 ⚡AMP
by Oliver Hotham
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Pyongyang Marathon

Pyongyang Marathon

This race can be run either as a full marathon or as a half marathon. There is also a 10km race and a 5km race. Hundreds of local runners take part as well as some elite foreign runners. Anyone taking part in this tour who wants to watch the marathon instead of take part in it is more than welcome...

more...
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Kim Hye Gyong and Jo Un Ok are set to run the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon

Kim and Jo finished 1-2 in last year's race clocking 2:27:31 and 2:27:42, respectively. That run was Kim's second fastest, behind the 2:27:05 run that propelled her to the tile in 2014.

That performance was a PB for Jo, also 26, who has run consistently in her country's biggest marathon, winning in 2017 and finishing third in 2016. She's raced well internationally as well, finishing fourth at last year's Asian Games.

On paper the fastest in the field is Kenyan Emily Samoei, but her best of 2:26:52 came back in 2012, form she'll need to chase to finish back on the podium on Sunday. 

Others to watch include Tizita Terecha of Ethiopia, who has a 2:28:02 career best from 2015, and her 27-year-old compatriot Tadelech Nedi, who clocked 2:32:28 in Casablanca two years ago.

The men's field features 34-year-old Willy Kotile of Kenya, whose 2:09:58 personal best dates back to 2015.

Ethiopian Dejene Kelkilew, 28, has a 2:11:21 lifetime best, but that too came in earlier stage of his career, back in 2014.

Tadesse Yae, anoher Ethiopian, could be a factor as well. The 30-year-old set his best of 2:11:50 in 2014, but more recently, finished 6th in New York in 2016.

(04/06/2019) Views: 2,010 ⚡AMP
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Pyongyang Marathon

Pyongyang Marathon

This race can be run either as a full marathon or as a half marathon. There is also a 10km race and a 5km race. Hundreds of local runners take part as well as some elite foreign runners. Anyone taking part in this tour who wants to watch the marathon instead of take part in it is more than welcome...

more...
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