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Neko Hiroshi competes in the 7th Phnom Penh Half Marathon yesterday.
Neko Hiroshi competes in the 7th Phnom Penh Half Marathon yesterday. Sreng Meng Srun

Hiroshi leads local marathon clean sweep

Rio Olympian Neko Hiroshi piloted a Cambodian clean sweep by repeating his success of last year in the men’s section of the 7th Phnom Penh International Half Marathon yesterday. French tutor Veronique Messina recorded her third win among the women in four years.

The popular charity run, which supports the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals and other benevolent causes, commemorated the birthday of Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.

A surge of entries over the last few days boosted the participation numbers well past the 5,000 mark, including a record 523 overseas entries from 33 countries.

The numbers were considerably bolstered by an increase in local runners patronising the 10km and 3km fun runs.

“The entries far exceeded our expectations. We were delighted to see so many institutions and groups taking part in big numbers. We hope this trend continues,’’ secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Vath Chamroeun, who is also the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Tourism, told The Post yesterday.

“We will now invite suggestions and opinions of foreign and local runners regarding our plan to upgrade the event to a full marathon next year.

“The great significance of the fields growing bigger in the 10km and 3km races is that more and more locals are getting involved which is a healthy sign of good long distance runners coming to the fore,” Chamroeun noted.

Born Kuniaki Takizaki in Japan, the 40-year-old comedian is better known in athletics circles as Neko Hiroshi since he acquired Cambodian citizenship in 2011.

He earned a universality placement for the men’s marathon in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he had the satisfaction of finishing the course.

At 1.45 metres (4ft 8in) tall and weighing around 100lbs (45kg), Hiroshi belies his build with his stamina, which he displayed in great measure and took him to a comfortable victory in 1 hour 16 min and 44 seconds, nearly two seconds slower than last year.

However, he extended his wining margin to nearly five minutes over Cambodian Ma Viro, who once again had to rest content with the runner-up tag. Kang Thoeun checked in third to complete a Cambodian trifecta.

The women’s event saw the 2015 winner, 38-year-old Messina, outlast her rivals and go one better on her second last year behind Britain’s Jill Hamill. Improving on last year’s mark by a few seconds, Messina completed her third win in four years.

For the first time a runner from Ukraine earned a podium finish when Nadtia Herashchenko came through to take second place in 1:44.23, ahead of Natsuko Sasaki of Japan in 1:46.36.

The men’s 10km also saw a dominant display by Cambodian runners. Van Peara took the top honours by clocking 38min, 34sec for the route, ahead of Sath Oudom (39.44) and Chea Sampos (39.53)

American Shaina Corbin won the women’s 10km in 47min,12sec to peg back the Cambodian pair of Phai Laurie (48.21) and 14-year-old Bo Samnang (48.23).

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