BARCELONA, Spain -- So, you want to know how tough the men's marathon is?
Take one look at Hwang Young-Cho of South Korea.
He was sprinting down the final straight of the 26-mile, 385-yard race yesterday at the Summer Olympics. He was blowing kisses to the crowd, waving his arms, finally crossing the finish with a smile on his face.
Then, Hwang took one step. And another. Dropped to his knees, got sick, landed face first on the track and was hauled away on a stretcher.
And he was the winner.
The Olympics ended yesterday with a marathon for the ages, not mention a race that had medical personnel scurrying around, scraping runners off the track.
Hwang, 22, peeled away from Japan's Koichi Morishita in the final two kilometers to win in 2 hours, 13 minutes, 23 seconds. Morishita, 18 seconds behind, won the silver.
The race for the bronze ended in a sprint. Stephan Timo Freigang of Germany finished in 2:14:00, beating Takeyuki Nakayama of Japan by two seconds.
Where were the Americans?
Plotting strategy from the back.
Steve Spence was 12th, Ed Eyestone 13th and Robert Kempainen 17th.
The Americans were banking on brutal racing conditions and a fast pace in a bid to win from the back and pick off runners on the second half of the course that ended with a climb up Montjuic to Olympic Stadium.
But they ran into a slight problem.
A slow early pace.
"Things were perfect until the gun went off," Spence said. "Someone was supposed to take it out, and didn't."
The weather also wasn't as brutal as advertised. Oh, it was hot all right, 90 degrees with 40 percent humidity, which is about 45 degrees warmer than ideal conditions.
But it could have been worse.
"Actually, I was hoping for pollution," Spence said. "I'm a great pollution runner."
At least the Americans could handle the water stops. Reigning world champion Hiromi Taniguchi lost his chance at the Olympic gold midway through the race, when his shoe flew off while he was caught in a scrummage around the table filled with water bottles. He fell 100 meters behind the pack, then recovered to finish eighth.
Hwang, Morishita and Nakayama broke away from the field at 26 kilometers, and then, three quickly became two. For seven kilometers, Hwang and Morishita raced shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride. It was in the midst of the final climb that Hwang broke away and saw the light at the end of the tunnel, the Olympic Stadium.
"When I was at 35 kilometers, I was assured of getting a medal," Hwang said. "Not a gold, though. My goal was to get that gold. I was a little afraid."
But with a grimace cutting across his face, and a kick in his legs, Hwang churned to the finish.
"Before the race, I called home, I tried to speak with my mother, but she wasn't there," he said. "I wanted to win this medal for her."
And he also wanted to win for South Korea.
Fifty-six years ago to the day, another Korean entered another Olympic stadium on a way to a gold medal. But on that day at the 1936 Berlin Games, Sohn Kee-chung did not race for Korea, he was forced to wear the colors of Japan, whose forces occupied his country.
Sohn said after that race: "The human body can do so much. Then the heart and spirit must take over."
For years, Sohn lived in obscurity. But at the 1948 Games in London, he led the South Korean delegation into Olympic Stadium. And in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, he was an Olympic torch-bearer and leaped for joy during his lap around the stadium.
Yesterday, Sohn was in the stands as Hwang crossed the finish first. And when the South Korean anthem was played, Hwang stood ramrod straight, his right hand over his heart.
"In 1936, my countryman ran under the Japanese flag," Hwang said. "It was a very painful event. This year, I am running under the Korean flag. I'm very happy and very moved."