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When he arrived in Barcelona for the Olympic Games in 1992, Korea’s Young-Cho Hwang was little known in the world of long distance running. He had competed in just four marathons, with a win in 1991 at the Summer Universiade.
The marathon for this edition started at Mataraó, a small resort on the coast 30km north of Barcelona. As they often do, the organisers chose the route to highlight the most beautiful monuments and well-known avenues of the city: the Sagrada Família church, the Passeig de Gràcia, la Rambla, or the la Plaça Sant Jaume. Concentrating on their race, however, the runners did not have time to enjoy their surroundings. Reaching the streets of the Catalan capital after 30 kilometres, there were still around 10 runners in contention for first place. Lining the route, almost one million spectators were encouraging the athletes along the 42.125 km of the race!
On that August day, Young-Cho was in great shape. He led the race at the 5th and then 10th kilometre mark, then again at the 35th and 40th. The race was being run at a slow pace because of the heat, and because of the awful last two kilometres. From down in the city, the runners had to climb the Montjuïc hill to reach the Olympic Stadium and the finish line. In this final climb, Young-Cho managed to gain a lead over the reigning world champion, Japan’s Koichi Moritshita.
The clamour of the stadium greeted the Korean as he reached the athletics track. Young-Cho almost had to sprint to beat the Japanese runner and Germany’s Stephan Timo Freigang. The first eight runners finished within 80 seconds of each another. In 2 hours 13 minutes and 23 seconds, the Korean won the slowest Olympic marathon since 1968.
At the age of 22, Young-Cho Hang won the supreme title and greatest reward of his sporting career. Injured, he did not qualify for the Games in 1996, and ended his career.