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Apr.16, 2014 | KIM (SQUARED)

Unicorn-Drawn Chariots of Fire

North Koreans are no strangers to athletic activities. On the contrary they are quite adept in both spirit and praxis. The national love of athletics is distilled at an early age when toddlers in state nursery schools are encouraged to compete in crawling races; the winning child get the one portion of mashed rice each nursery is allocated. Similarly throughout their middle and high-school years children participate in various athletic recreations like 3-hr daily pedaling sessions on bicycle-generators to provide electricity to their school premises, wrestling matches to determine which kids deserve perks like desks and pencils, and classroom jogging to stay warm during cold seasons.


But even in everyday life, the North Koreans have ample opportunities for exercise and training. For example public transport buses are intentionally without gas so commuters have to push them (in turns) and thereby work most body muscles all at once. Similarly, taxis are not permitted to let passengers sit inside the vehicles, they are instead prompted to run alongside them. Individual car ownership is strictly forbidden to avoid people becoming complacent about their daily activities and promote walking. Several sports camps around the country cater for the athletically-challenged citizens with invigorating programs like hard labor in corn-fields, mines and factories.


The recent international marathon event in Pyongyang is the annual culmination of the national infatuation with athletics. North Koreans, as fellow public-transport deficient Kenyans, are excellent marathon runners. This is a much loved event and the whole city stepped out to see the runners compete (and be compliant with a mayoral decree of compulsory attendance, applauding and cheering) and later gathered into the packed national stadium to celebrate them crossing the finish line (especially those that did not drop dead afterwards) and/or huddle close together for warmth.


Kim himself, as his father and grandfather before him, is an enthusiast athlete with a particular inclination for bobsleighing. The recent inauguration of the brand new national skiing resort and the design of his hand-crafted, solid gold sleigh are testaments to his dedication to winter sports and his desire for his citizens (those licensed to travel and socialize) to get to know them. The national patron of sports is of course the late Kim Jong-Il, who is credited with the introduction of equestrianism in North Korean culture and he is fondly remembered for his proficiency and elegance in show-jumping and dressage on his phosphorescent white unicorn.


Photos from North Korea's Very Unusual Marathon

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