Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Going to see the IAAF World Championships in Daegu

I left Seoul Saturday night to go watch the men's marathon at the World Championships in Daegu. I went to Daegu last September as well, and I have to admit that I left Daegu with a much better impression this time around. Granted, it rained last time while it was reasonably sunny this time around, but I think I saw much better parts of Daegu this time around than last time.

Much of the trip highlighted the best of living, traveling and hosting major international events in Korea. I don't like to do it, but buying train tickets at the last minute made me to take the high-speed KTX half-way until Daejeon, before transferring to the lowest-class of train, the spacious if ramshackle Mugunghwa train. At any rate, you can travel about 300 km from Seoul to Daegu in two hours or so via high-speed rail.

Arriving in Daegu at 2 am, I had no problem finding a reasonably clean hotel room for $40, complete with a massive flat-screen TV, thanks to what might best be euphemized as Korea's thriving hotel industry. Elsewhere in the world, it would have been impossible to walk out of a train station and expect to find a hotel room within a few minutes' walk, much less one that wasn't at exorbitant rates, but that's the brilliance of Korea.

I was also able to walk to the finish line of the marathon from my hotel in about 10-15 minutes, adjusting for time spent lost in what is a major drawback of visiting Korea, its eternally confusing, nameless streets. While the government is pushing a system of addresses that uses street names instead of the present ward-neighbourhood addressing system along with lot number (eg 25-42 Bedford-Stuyesvant, Brooklyn, New York City), it might work best for mailing. It's hard to imagine anyone leaving the current system that relies on landmarks to focus on street names.

Daegu as a whole is plastered in advertising for the event. Standing in Dongdaegu train station after the race, I had a nice view of the city and I was stunned at just how many buildings had the championship logo plastered all over them.

The race was similarly well-attended. Sure, there were large numbers of people who had obviously been recruited in some capacity, but there was no shortage of people out to gawk at the spectacle, even people who had absolutely no knowledge of running. To those of us know who the sport, the World Championship marathon is maybe the least-competitive major marathon out there, but you can't underestimate the power of national singlets. If you had put those same athletes in Nike and Adidas singlets, ordinary people might not have cared so much over whether Morocco or Japan came sixth.

As for the race itself, this was my second time watching a world-class race, the other one was the 2007 Chicago Marathon. This was more interesting for whatever reason, maybe because of the sheer size of the field or because of how many actual fans there were. That's right, there were fans, the largest number coming from Kenya and Japan, who had signs, flags, knew their runners and cheered very loudly.

I wasn't that impressed with the speed of the pack the first time around, though I was definitely impressed with just how many people were running together. I remember being stunned at 30k with how fast the leaders were running. I didn't know at the time that Abel Kirui was in the middle of something like a 28-minute 10k.

It wasn't that the runners were moving unimaginably fast; I've run a 1500 at 2:06 pace and lots of people could run a 400 at that pace (72 seconds) if they really wanted to. For me, I was struck by how different it looks from TV. Someone whose torso makes them look like they're out for a jog looks very different when you see them go by in profile.

Ironically, while a marathon is an awful sport to watch in person because of how little you get to see, I think that the experience never seems to carry over onto TV, with rare exceptions. The sheer force with which a 2:10 marathoner moves and the awkward stiffness in their body over the later stages of the race somehow seem to get smoothed out on TV, but are so vivid in person that I was just glad to be standing on the side of the road with a coffee.

Here are some pictures:

Abel Kirui leads Feyisa Lilesa at 30k.

I was too intimidated by these fired-up Kenyan fans to get them to stop for a picture.

I misjudged how fast Abel Kirui was moving as he ran by around the 42-kilometre mark. This was my only whiff on passing runners.

This is the best picture I took. I was watching the race next to a mulleted man from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. The Russian on the left was putting on a tremendous kick to pass the struggling Mongolian runner on the right. The Siberian yelled something in Russian that caught the runner's attention, and he took the time to look at us, smile and wave.

This is the last-place runner, Sangay Wangchuk of Bhutan, running a 2:38 national record. I have no idea why his clothes (is that even a uniform?) don't identify him.


Anonymous said...

Off topic, but I'm just curious. Why don't you post at Sonagi Consortium anymore?

Adeel said...

I couldn't really decide what sort of things go there and what goes here.