The country's long-distance pride, Hem Bunting, led a Cambodian clean sweep in the second Olympic Day Phnom Penh International Half Marathon yesterday morning, adding lustre to the celebrations marking the birthday of the Queen Norodom Monireath Sihanouk and World Environment Day.
In the women's event, Cambodia’s Ly Nary carried her international reputation to a comfortable victory, beating by more than two minutes 2012 Sihanoukville Half Marathon winner Clem Tanaguide of France, who in turn left a bunch of runners behind her.
The Phnom Penh International Half Marathon was organised by the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia in active co-operation with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, with the Japan-based organisation Cambodian Dream as co-partner.
Hem Bunting, the stormy petrel of Cambodian athletics, was never off the beat, setting a tempo that ultimately proved too demanding for the chasing pack.
The victory came with the added incentive of having touched his personal best timing for the half marathon at one hour, nine minutes, two seconds, slightly more than an minute faster than his winning effort last year.
Hem Bunting's back-to-back triumphs in the Phnom Penh event comes on the top of his 2010 victory in the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon.
“I am very happy I improved on my time here. I continue to work hard towards the Olympic qualification mark [two hours, 18 minutes in the marathon], although the London Olympics may be out of my reach,” he told the Post yesterday.
A respectful distance behind Bunting were Cambodian national team members Ma Viro and Kuth Sros, who edged two foreign competitors out of a podium finish.
Women's winner Ly Nary, who clocked one hour, 32 minutes, 34 seconds, benefited from staying close to the men’s group of front-runners.
“I relished the pace, and my nearest rival was far back. That made it sort of easy for me,” she said.
“It was definitely better organised this time. The route was quite good and the weather not so punishing,” added the long-distance specialist, who was controversially disqualified from last year's run after she had deviated from the official route.
Ly Nary revealed she was now working with the US navy. “I will only take part in a few long-distance events like this, more for fun. Serious competition for me at this stage is not possible,” she said.
The men’s and women’s half marathon winners each received US$1,500 in prizemoney, with runners-up banking $1,000 each and third-place finishers $500 apiece.
Cam Watson of the UK claimed the remaining place on the women’s podium.
The men’s 10km run also produced a 1-2-3 for Cambodia, with London Olympics-bound Kieng Samorn bolting home as the winner in 37 minutes, 14.56 seconds, ahead of Cheng Chandara and Kang Thun.
Australian Megan McDonald won the women’s 10km in a time of 48 minutes, 16 seconds, beating Alice Collier and Marissa Flannery of the United States.
The men’s 5km event went to Soi Choub Veasna, who is more famous by his alias Sen Rady, a well-regarded boxer. Phnorn Phearum and Sok Mongdara took the next two remunerative berths.
The women’s version was a family affair, with American sisters Allie and Layney Vincent claiming the top two places. Local girl Thou Davy took third spot.
The two categories of 3km fun runs were picked up by Phnom Penh residents. Sin Sidin won the men’s event ahead of Thai Sokun and Ly Lina, and the women’s run saw Try Sothavy beat home Khim Chanthon and Sarin Kanchana.
British ambassador to Cambodia Mike Gooding was a competitor in the fun run. “I enjoyed the run. I believe it's a great initiative highlighting environment and health issues,” he told the Post.
“We are looking forward to the Olympics, the third time London will be hosting it.
The innovation and energy will make it one of the best Olympics ever.”
In his closing remarks, Tourism Minister Thong Khon, who is president of the NOCC, said the Phnom Penh Half Marathon had attracted more than 2,500 entries this year.
“We have seen a 40 per cent increase in participation from last year, which shows the Phnom Penh run is gaining in worldwide popularity,” Thong Khon said.
NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun noted a steady increase in the number of foreign participants this year. “Nearly 150 runners from 17 countries took part in this year’s run, and there was a huge Japanese component this year. It is very encouraging,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at email@example.com