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Report: North Korean runners cut marathon to qualify for Olympics

An agent alleges that two North Koreans cheated to qualify for the Olympics.
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North Korean runners, Ra Hyon-ho and Ri Kwang-bom, allegedly cut the Mangyongdae Prize Pyongyang Marathon North Korea course in order to hit the 2016 Olympic qualifying times for Rio de Janeiro on April 10, an agent tells David Monti of Race Results Weekly.

Hyon-ho and Kwang-bom ran 2:15:45 and 2:16:25, respectively, which falls under the 2:19:00 Olympic qualifying standard set by the IAAF, track and field's governing body. The course-cutting was noticed by the manager and his son working at a water station along the course's 35-kilometer marker as the North Korean runners somehow managed to pass several African runners ahead of them before the finish.

The African runners complained to their agent after the results showed two North Korean runners that had never passed them.

“When we complained we were told that they have an electronic chip system that they can investigate,” Steyn told Race Results Weekly. “It took more than three weeks to produce these results, while they just ignored all correspondence to them. It however seems like the chip system failed and they also did not report results further than number seven. [Zimbabwe​ runners] Cephas Pasipamire and Kelvin Pangiso, who finished more than 50 meters apart, were given the same time of 2:17:00.”

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North Korean runner Pak Chol-gwang, who ran the marathon at the 2012 Olympics, took the victory over Ketema Bekele Negassa after the Ethiopian followed a wrong car toward the end of the race. Negassa had built a strong lead on Chol-gwang before the marshalling error.

South African athletes manager Dewald Steyn is upset by the cheating and says he may never bring his runners back to compete.

“These people saw me as their friend having been responsible for 60 to 80 percent of their foreign athletes over a 12 year period, but this is totally unacceptable while they refuse to communicate with me,” he added. “They will most probably not ask me to bring athletes again if I reveal this, but to me this is as bad as taking drugs – refusing to accept that their athletes did not run the full race but thereby qualifying for the Olympics.”

At the 2012 Olympics Chol-gwang and Kim Kwang-Hyok finished 52nd 53rd overall. North Korea has sent 24 runners (15 men, 9 women) to the Olympics and all have contested the marathon. Chang Sop-Choe recorded the men's best finish in 12th place at the 1976 Olympics. Kim Kum-Ok holds the best finish for the women with her respective 12th place at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.