Two German tourists turned their first visit to Cambodia into a spectacular sporting success in the 2nd Sihanoukville Angkor Beer International Half Marathon, which wended its way through the port city streets after a flag off from the famed Ochheuteal Beach yesterday morning.
The 40-year-old Joerg Heiner will return to his home near Cologne today as the proud winner of the men's 21km event, having outstayed two of Cambodia's best known runners, Hem Bunting and Ma Viro.
At the other end of the German spectrum, Beate Krecklow, whose hobby is to run for fun during vacations, will go back next week to her small coastal town along the Baltic Sea, basking in the glory of her stoic victory in the women's event.
A record turnout of about 1,400 runners, including 200 overseas participants, competing in five different categories were flagged off early in the morning, but the spotlight was clearly on a thrilling match race developing between Jorge Heiner and Hem Bunting.
Cambodia’s SEA Games marathon silver medalist and multiple half marathon winner had the German well within his sights as the two dominated the rest of the field. It was the German’s stronger finishing kick which eventually hauled him past the finish line first in one hour, 14 minutes and 35 seconds, a few yards ahead of Hem Bunting at 1:14.55. Ma Viro, who won the event last year, trotted in third at 1:29.39.
“My biggest worry this morning was the heat. Back home it is minus five [degrees celcsius] and snowing and here it is past 30. But it turned out well. It was hard and I honestly did not know that the guy I just beat has such a big reputation,” Heiner told the Post after the race.
“This was indeed my first competitive half marathon. I gave up smoking and drinking a few years ago to concentrate on stamina building and I am happy to have kicked those habits,” the German said, adding: “Yes, I love to come back next year.”
Beate Kerklow was one of those curious tourists who was drawn into the half marathon after taking a look at one of the publicity posters pasted all around the town. Her experience in long distance running had been strictly confined to an odd event if and when she found time during her vacations, and her last competitive run was a year ago in Singapore.
Yet the German got down to a steady pace throughout and had just one rival to think about all the way in Singapore’s Vivian Tang. Kerklow clocked 1:29.51 for the 21km route with Tang finishing second at 1:30.16. Veronique Messina of France was third at 1:39.02.
“It was hilly and hard but I enjoyed it,” said Kerklow.
The supporting 10km event saw a Cambodian clean sweep in the men’s section. Last year’s winner Kieng Samorn, who represented the Kingdom at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, proved too classy for the rest of the field, winning the event in 39:15.14, nearly three minutes ahead of Chea Samphos, who was less than a minute in front of Keov Da.
Australian Jill Boucher won the women’s 10km in a time of 53:23.45, well ahead of Russian Tatiana Velichko in 57:15.39 and Andrea Dorsam of United States.
In fact, a drama of sorts was played out in determining the third place getter in this event. Andrea Dorsam indeed finished third but it was discovered by the officials that she had sported a wrong number and so the revised placing was given to Jacquie Bickers of Britain.
When an official announcement was made for Bickers to show up for the prize presentation she didn't turn up and Dorsam was then reinstated.
For the less serious and fun loving populace, a 3km fun run was organised with a noticeably high number of students taking part.
“I am happy it was much bigger than last year. I am confident it will grow even bigger in the years to come. This event carries an important message on the need to preserve nature and I am happy with the response,” Tourism Minister and President of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, Thong Khon, told the Post.
NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun said: “As expected overseas participation doubled this year to 200, which is a very good sign . . . The number of participants also grew by nearly 200 and we had several other environment related activities this year.”
A green-shirted brigade of volunteers went on a beach cleaning drive on Friday as part of the Environment Sustainability in Sports program.
International Women’s Day was also celebrated in a unique fashion with four female contenders showing their Khun Khmer boxing skills in two exhibition fights on a specially built ring at the Ochheuteal Beach. There were also six men's exhibition bouts.
On Saturday, environmental issues relating to sports and its impact on the protection and preservation of nature were debated during a seminar held at The Beach Hotel.