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ROAD RACE. Runners compete on Ryomyong Street during the Pyongyang marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea. Hundreds of overseas runners hit the streets in Pyongyang for North Koreaís annual event. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #8 (April 16, 2018), page 8.

Hundreds of foreigners join Pyongyang race as tensions ease

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) ó Hundreds of foreigners joined in the annual Pyongyang marathon despite political tensions that have only recently begun to ease and a ban on U.S citizens travelling to the country that is still in effect.

Approximately 400 foreign amateurs took part this year, less than half the number that participated last year. They came from approximately 43 countries and territories around the world.

Disabled people were allowed to join in for the first time. One wheelchair runner from Singapore and one blind North Korean runner were in the race.

This yearís marathon started in Kim Il Sung Stadium and wound past Pyongyang landmarks such as Kim Il Sung Square and Mirae Street, one of the North Korean capitalís recent redevelopment projects.

Thirteen foreign professional runners from African countries participated in the elite category of the race.

The menís full marathon was won by North Korean Ri Kang Bom in 2 hours, 12 minutes, and 53 seconds.

The winner of the womenís full marathon was North Korean Kim Hye Gyong, who came in at 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 24 seconds, with her twin sister Kim Hye Song narrowly behind her.

"Iím glad that I was able to fulfill the expectations of the people," menís winner Ri said.

Since North Korea started allowing foreign amateurs to take part in the Pyongyang marathon in 2014, the event has become a boost for the tourism industry.

But in the past year, tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the Northís missile launches and nuclear tests last year, and a U.S. travel ban on its citizens visiting North Korea, have reduced the number of tourist arrivals.

Tensions peaked late last year, but have eased since January, when leader Kim Jong Un announced a series of diplomatic overtures toward South Korea.

"Itís the last two months we saw an increase in people, amateurs, wanting to join the marathon, simply because the geopolitics before were so, you know, tense, that people werenít joining," said Nick Bonner, head of Koryo Tours, which brought in many of the foreign tourist runners.

The competition is officially called the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon. Mangyongdae is where North Korea says its late founder, President Kim Il Sung, was born. Itís part of a series of events held to commemorate the anniversary of his April 15 birthday.

April 15 is called the Day of the Sun and is North Koreaís biggest holiday.

The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) recognized this yearís Pyongyang marathon as a Bronze Label Road Race. Itís also accredited by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races.

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