The 1921

On one of the earliest, if not the earliest, marathon held in Pyongyang.

The 2020 Pyongyang Marathon is scheduled for 12 April 2020 and will officially mark the 30th Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon. There is some dispute as to whether this is the 31st event as the history of modern marathons in post-1945 Pyongyang date backs to 1981 – perhaps some years’ events were held under different titles like has been done with the mass games over the decades.

However, the history of marathons in Pyongyang is much longer and pre-dates the foundation of the DPRK. The earliest available record (that we’ve been able to find!) of a marathon event being held in Pyongyang dates to almost 100 years ago on 11 June and 13 June 1921 for the Tano (Dragon Boat) festival. It is recorded in the Donga Ilbo, a major Korean newspaper at the time that still exists today in South Korea.

The 1921 Pyongyang Marathon was part of a larger sporting event put on by the Linen and Cloth Workers’ Association at a Taesong School athletic field near Mansu Hill (see below) on 11 June 1921. A rainstorm at 15:00 ended the day's activities and the whole event was continued on 13 June. It is unclear if the marathon was held on the 11 or 13 June.

The top seven marathon runners were as follows:

1st place: Kim Jong Man

2nd place: Pak In Son

3rd place: Ri Il Chan

4th place: Ri Seung Chan

5th place: Pak Seung Kyo

6th place: Yun Yong Ho

7th place: Pak Tae Hong

Despite being the largest city in northern Korea, Pyongyang was not the first city to later become of the DPRK to hold a marathon. The future North Korean cities of Wonsan, Sinuiju, and Sariwon all held earlier marathons in 1920-21, also as part of larger sporting events. Training of marathon runners in Pyongyang likely started earlier the 1921 with Pyongyang natives joining a marathon in Dalian, China in 1920.

Marathons continued to be a regular event in Korea during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The first Korean to win a gold medal, Sohn Kee-chung, did so at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

To this day North Korea maintains the original Korean spelling of ‘marathon’ (마라손) as opposed to the modern spelling used in South Korea (마라톤).

Interested in running a marathon in Pyongyang? Check out Koryo Tours' marathon tours. Koryo Tours is the official travel partners for amateur participants in the marathon.

Updated 22 July 2019.

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