Japanese amateur runner Minora Onozuka and a seasoned campaigner from Singapore, Vivian Tang, won the men’s and women’s events, respectively, in the 18th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon yesterday with Cambodia’s most prestigious charity run attracting a record number of 7,579 participants from 75 countries.
Breaking sunshine and a cool early morning breeze in Siem Reap presented the perfect clime as 3,000 runners lined up for the 21km run, which was the first to be flagged off by Tourism Minister and National Olympic Committee of Cambodia President Thong Khon.
The other supporting events – a 10km for men and women and a 3km fun run – came under the starter’s orders at short intervals. There were also special category events for participants with disability apart from a wheelchair race.
Cambodia’s pride and multiple winner of half marathons, Hem Bunting, was among the starters, but after covering five kilometres he reportedly felt pain in his stomach and dropped out to rest.
Once the big field sorted itself out, Onozuka worked his way up to take over the running with nearly half the trip ahead of him. The 33-year-old Tokyo resident, heading for his first overseas success, conserved himself well enough at that stage to raise the tempo towards the end.
In the final section, Onozuka had established a winning lead, clocking in his personal best time of 1 hour 16 minutes and 10 seconds.
Chasing him hard to the finish, 38-year-old Assad Attanini of Australia finished second in 1 hour 17 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of 20-year-old Peter Gardener of the United States.
“I have won a couple of long distance races back home,” Onozuka told the Post through an interpreter.
“I run for fun. I am an amateur. But this victory is really special for me not only because it is my first overseas win but because it is milestone year for Japan-Cambodia friendship.”
Japan and Cambodia are commemorating the 60th anniversary of Japan-Cambodia relationship and co-operation while Japan is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of its partnership with Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Cambodia is a member.
Tang, 43, built on her past experiences in Siem Reap and was comfortably home with a winning time of one hour, 27 minutes and 28 seconds nearly four minutes ahead of Janette Agura of the Phillipines and Charolette Cutler of Great Britain.
Cambodia’s Nary Ly was among the contestants in the women’s run, but at no stage was she in serious reckoning.
The 10km run for men and women was the next best attraction of the day. Anand Parekh of the United States won the men’s contest in a smart time of 38 minutes, beating by seconds Jamie Chambers of Great Britain, who narrowly held off a swoop by Cambodia’s Ork Rohit.
The race was thrilling all the way up the final run home with less than a second eventually separating the three.
Parekh, however, had to give the awards ceremony a miss as he dashed off to the airport minutes after the race to catch a flight back.
Finland’s Heidi Makineri won the women’s 10km run in 44 minutes and 35 seconds, Lorette Vinet of France and Sophie Chavanel.
Addressing the participants and a big crowd of spectators before the early morning start, Tourism Minister Thong Khon described the record participation this year as a watershed moment in Cambodia’s sporting history.
“We have never seen these numbers before. It is most heartening that there is a 20 per cent increase this year and we hope this will go even higher next year”, said the Minister.
“It’s a tremendous boost to our country’s image in the world. It also shows that Cambodia is a wonderful tourism-sports destination.”
NOCC secretary-general told the Post it was “a sign of great progress that 4,000 foreigners took part this year and, more importantly, we had more nationalities represented – 75 countries and regions in all.
Excitement is also running high among this year’s participants over the prospects of a full Angkor Wat International Marathon taking shape next year.
When the Post drew his attention to this buzz over a full marathon, Thong Khon said: “Right now we focus our efforts on consolidating this half marathon and making it a better experience for all . . . As for the full marathon, yes it will happen.”
There were a few oddities that stood out like a runner in 10km taking along her pet dog on a leash and a senior citizen completing the 21km barefoot. Then, there was this runner in a tiger costume.
But the most striking of them all was a female competitor finishing the run with her baby in her arms.
Pedalers power to podium
In the weekend’s traditional cycling races held the day before the half marathon, 18-year-old national team rider Yoeun Phyuth captured the 100km men’s title in a dramatic finish while Jolanda Zwetsloot of the Netherlands doubled up on her 2013 women’s Mountain Bike Series victory with a 100km win in 3:07:08.
Engineering student Phyuth beat fellow Cambodian Meas Samnang by just one hundredth of a second, completing the course in 2:55:51. Swiss cyclist Simon Gadient was also just fractions of a second behind in third.
The 30km events saw male rider Mol Salim triumph in 47:27:06, nearly a minute in front of Soun Visal and Em Perk.
Female cyclist Michelle of the Philippines grabbed first with a time of 1:39:00, 47 seconds faster than Mok Sakhun, with Prak Pov in third on 1:53:04.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY YEUN PONLOK, TRANSLATED BY CHENG SERYRITH