COMPETITORS from around 20 countries will run in races in Hanoi this weekend to mark another step in Vietnam's attempt to break the international isolation following the 1978 invasion of Cambodia.
The climax will be tomorrow's marathon, in which some 150 runners will compete. A total of 10,000 security personnel will man the race routes, which pass the scenic lakes, old commercial quarter and the peeling but still beautiful French-colonial style buildings of one of Asia's most charming capitals.
With temperatures expected to be pleasant, race officials expect a much faster marathon than last year's, won by the Hong Kong-based British lawyer, Tim Soutar, in 2hr 43min 23sec. Soutar, 38, is back to defend his title.
He faces tough competition, notably from the American Doug Kurtis, a 40-year-old computer systems analyst who has won 30 of the 132 marathons he has entered.
Although he had not seen the course, Kurtis said that 'couldn't imagine it could be any worse than New York City with its potholes'.
Several dozen Americans, including at least three who live in Vietnam, are to enter the weekend's races.
A 10-kilometre (six-mile) wheelchair race on Saturday will be the first event of its kind for Vietnam. Three participants from Hong Kong, two each from Thailand and the Philippines, and an Australian Vietnam war veteran are entered, along with 18 Vietnamese.
The Australian entry is 46-year-old Graham Edwards, Western Australia minister for police, emergency services and sport and recreation. Edwards lost both legs to a land mine while serving in Vietnam in 1970. He said he did not expect to win, but was in Hanoi 'to make new acquaintances, help enhance the spirit of sports and friendship, and help advance the cause of disabled persons in sport'.