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(LEAD) (Daegu Athletics) S. Korea comes up short of medal in men's marathon
By Yoo Jee-ho
DAEGU, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Sunday failed to win an unofficial team marathon medal Sunday, the final day of the World Championships in Athletics.

   In the team event, which combines the three fastest times for each country, South Korea ranked sixth with a combined time of 6 hours, 57 minutes and 3 seconds.

   Jeong Jin-hyeok led the Koreans at 2:17:04. He was 23rd among individual runners. Lee Myong-seung was the next best at 2:18:05, and Hwang Jun-hyeon followed at 2:21:54.

   Entering the day with no medals, South Korea had pinned its final hopes on the marathon event. But the men's squad was missing Ji Young-jun, the fastest active marathoner for the country. He was left off the national team at the last minute after battling injuries and drug allegations, of which he was later cleared.

   Jeong suffered muscle cramps in his quadriceps after the race and could barely speak due to exhaustion. National team coach Jeong Man-hwa said his racers didn't meet his expectations.

   "I am just bitter about our records today," the coach said. "We have to revamp everything before the Olympics (next year in London)."

   The coach said Jeong Jin-hyeok is capable of running around 2 hours and 9 minutes and had been preparing for hot and humid conditions of a typical late summer day in Daegu. But the temperature at the start was about 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 degrees Fahrenheit), some 6 degrees Celsius cooler than usual.

   South Koreans had said humid conditions would somewhat level the playing field and they would be better equipped to handle such weather, but the unseasonably cool air negated that.

   "I shouldn't blame the weather, but I do have regrets that we should've had more training in cooler places," the coach said. "But runners like Ji Young-jun, Jeong Jin-hyeok and Hwang Jun-hyeon are still good athletes. They can get better as long as they train in a stable environment."

   Hwang Young-jo, the former Olympic marathon champion and technical director for marathons at the Korea Association of Athletics Federations (KAAF), said he was at a loss for words to describe the South Koreans' performances.

   "Everyone has worked for a long time for the championships on our home soil, but we had a shameful end," Hwang said. "I am sorry that we couldn't meet people's high expectations for the marathon. But there are more events for them to run. I expect these young runners to learn from this experience and work even harder."

Jeong Jin-hyeok (third from R in green top) runs in the men's marathon on Sept. 4 at the World Championships in Athletics in Daegu. (Yonhap)

The South Korean men won the team marathon silver at the 2007 championships in Osaka, Japan. Though a medal here wouldn't have counted toward the medal table, it still would have been a boost for the struggling South Korean delegation on the final day.

   None of the six finals in the evening will feature homegrown athletes.

   Kenya's Abel Kirui defended his marathon title with a time of 2:07:38. He was almost three minutes ahead of runner-up Vincent Kipruto, also from Kenya.

   Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa took the bronze to prevent another Kenyan marathon sweep. On Aug. 27, the first day of the championships, Kenya swept the women's marathon podium, led by Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat.