Social and Entrepreneurial Culture of Ultrarunning in South Korea

Terjesen, Siri (2006) Social and Entrepreneurial Culture of Ultrarunning in South Korea. Ultrarunning, 26(12).


Brief synposis: This article describes the rapid and grassroots growth of ultrarunning in Korea, and particularly the organization of the 2006 IAU World Cup, is an example of entrepreneurial activity in the sports industry.

Excerpts: The International Association Ultrarunning (IAU) was founded in 1984 by Andy Milroy and Dan Brannen as an umbrella organization for the various initiatives around the world, and to enable high-caliber international competitions. The IAU World Cup is the leading global ultrarunning championship and is sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the international governing body for the sport of athletics, which is associated with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Games. The first IAU World Cup was held in 1987 in Torhout, Belgium, and was set to the most common ultrarunning distance, 100 km (62.1 miles). The IAU World Cup is awarded by the IAU Executive Committee to the event team with the best proposal. Like other IAAF world championships, the IAU World Cup is held annually. IAU World Cups at the 100 km distance have been held in Santander, Spain; Paris-Rambouillet, France; Little Marais-Duluth, USA; Florence-Faenza, Italy; Palamós, Spain, Lake Saroma, Japan (twice); Winschoten, Netherlands (four times); Moscow, Russia; River Shimanto, Japan; Cléder, France; Torhout, Belgium (again in 2002); and Tainan, Taiwan. In addition to an individual competition for the World Championship, there is also a team competition for both men and women, which is based on the combined times of the first three athletes to finish. Other common ultrarunning distances include the 50 km (31.1 miles), 50 mile (80.5 km), 100 mile (161 km) and 200 km (124 miles). Ultrarunning competitions are also staged over 24 hour, 48 hour and six-day time periods, in which athletes are challenged to complete as much distance as possible, often on a one km or one mile circuit track. Each year, over 70,000 people around the world complete an ultramarathon.

Korea is home to an estimated 2,500 of those ultrarunners, who comprise the fastest growing population of ultra distance athletes, and race in many of the country’s thirty ratified ultramarathons, the first of which was held in the year 2000. Misari, Korea, took the world stage in athletics, hosting the IAU World Cup on October 7-8, 2006. The 2006 IAU World Cup attracted over 300 athletes and managers from 30 countries, and is an example of a truly entrepreneurial endeavor in the Asian sports industry. As yet, however, there has been little research on ultrarunning (outside kinesiology books and journals, e.g. Noakes, 2003), and the athletics industry, particularly in Asian environments.

Korea has a strong, dynamic national sports culture, illustrated by its status as the first Asian country to field a professional soccer team and role as host to a number of mega-sporting events, including the 1986 Summer Asian Games, 1988 Summer Olympic Games, and the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Koreans are particularly keen on running and marathons, a passion in part fostered by the robust running cultures in neighboring Japan and Taiwan. In addition to the national athletics federations, Korea has a company team structure, whereby large corporations sponsor employee teams to compete in national and international events. These professional and semi-professional “corporate athletes‿ traditionally compete in races of marathon or shorter distance. An increasing number of Korean runners are competing in ultradistances. This trend is widespread across Asia and the female and male 100km World Records are currently held by two Japanese, Tomoe Abe (6 hours, 33 minutes, 11 seconds) and Takahiro Sunada (6:13:33).

The increasing popularity of marathon and ultradistance running in Korea has been traced to individuals’ reactions to the Asian financial crisis in 1998. The crisis and subsequent recession made light of Korea’s high debt/equity ratios, extensive foreign borrowing, and otherwise disorderly financial industry. Korea endured two major rounds of restructuring, resulting in the collapse of Daewoo and a number of other large chaebols. Of the chaebols that existed in 1995, only half remain a decade later. Yongsik Lee, a corporate strategic planner at a major chaebol recalls how the country’s financial crisis triggered a personal life change, “The crisis prompted people to try to escape stress, including through running. . . personally, for me, there was a great accumulation of stress at work, I thought I might die sitting in my chair someday. I started running around a small playground in a primary school near my house. I was forty-years old, and actually Korea is very famous for the high rates of death of men in their forties. Because I didn’t know the first thing about sports and was not good at sports by birth, I couldn’t find any interesting sports except for running. I challenged myself to run a half marathon and then a full marathon within two months of starting. Certainly, I risked my life. I began to doubt that Pheidippides [according to Greek legend, a soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians’ defeat at the Battle of Marathon] died after completing his marathon. I wanted to try a longer distance challenge and eventually became the first 100km finisher in Korea in 2000.‿

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ID Code: 7979
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: For more information, please refer to the publisher's website (link above) or contact the author:
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Ultrarunning, Korea
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Deposited On: 07 Jun 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2011 13:31

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