The 16th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, which has acquired over the years a world wide reputation as the race that changes lives in Cambodia, will be flagged off at 6:30am on Sunday from Siem Reap’s famed World Heritage site by Tourism Minister and President of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Thong Khon.
One of Cambodia’s biggest sporting events, first held on December 23, 1996, as a crusade against landmines with 654 runners from 14 countries, has now grown into a high profile global charity run.
An all-time record of 5,129 registered participants from more than 50 countries will be lining up this year for the coveted men’s and women’s half marathon and other allied events such as men’s and women’s 10km and 3km runs and races for the disabled and wheelchair athletes.
The Governor of Siem Reap, Sou Phirin, will order the start of the 10km run at 6:40am while Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia Kuroki Masafumi will dispatch the 3km runners at 6:50am. Races for the disabled and wheelchair categories will begin at 10 minute intervals thereafter.
“It is the biggest assembly of charity minded people you can ever imagine and it is a mark of the event’s growing stature that every continent is represented and the number of participants keep going up every year,” NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun said yesterday.
The event is jointly organised by the NOCC and the Khmer Amateur Athletics Federation, with the AWHM Executive Steering Committee managing the whole affair in league with non-profit organisation Hearts of Gold.
Various government agencies, including the ministries of Tourism, Education, Culture and Fine Arts, and the APSARA Authority, are also supporting the event alongside the Japanese embassy in Cambodia and the Cambodian Embassy in Japan.
Another notable feature of this event is the high level of cooperation from organisations like the Japan Amateur Athletic Federation and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. There are also several Japanese private and corporate sector businesses involved as support cast behind the scenes.
“There are no prizes to be won and people are there to run for charitable causes. In the period from 1996 to 2010, the Half Marathon Day has raised charity donations to the tune of $255,617 to 10 organisations including the Cambodia Red Cross, Cambodia Trust, Handicap International, UNFPA (HIV/AIDS Prevention) and Hearts of Gold,” said Vath Chamroeun.
“What started as a forum for peace and a voice against landmines has grown into a huge movement to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and also improve conditions for the disabled using the medium of sports as a tool of development. We are proud to be part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal,” added the NOCC official.
Interest in this year’s edition is so widespread that there are runners from New Zealand to South Africa through Isreal and Solvakia, with Great Britain heading the overseas list of entries with 540 runners in all the events put together, second only behind Cambodia’s 1,880 registered runners.
The United States with 430 entries is the third largest group, followed by Australia (386) Singapore (253), France (249), Japan (216), Malaysia (191) and New Zealand (107).
The Hearts of Gold representative Yuko Arimori will organise a tailgate event on Friday to highlight the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is a walk through the Angkor Wat Temple by the students of Chey Elementary School and Hearts of Gold Japanese class along with students from New Child Care Center to raise awareness among youths.
With the United Nations declaring December as the World AIDS Month, the focus of this walk will be to save Cambodian youngsters from this dreaded disease.
The Kingdom’s well known long distance runner Hem Bunting, who will not be defending his men’s half marathon title, won last year in a time of 1:10.11 ahead of American Evan Fox and Japan’s Neko Hiroshi in a field of 890 runners.
The 2010 women’s event involving 604 runners was claimed by Japan’s Satoko Uetani in a time of 1:22.31, with Singapore’s Vivian Tang second and Australia’s Heather Danks third.
The men’s 10km event went to Syawath Thammavonchit of Laos in a record time of 0:32.13, while the women’s version was also won in a record timing of 0:39.17 by Singapore’s Leng Leng Koh.
Chinese runner Zhan Donglin’s 1:05.19 set in 1996 remains the course record for the men’s half marathon. Interestingly, the women’s best timing of 1:12.27 also goes back to 1996 in the name of another Chinese athlete, Wang Xiujie.
US Embassy worker Elizabeth Chambers has sponsored eight Cambodian athletes, including three who run with artificial legs, to take part in Sunday’s events. The six male and two female runners train at Olympic Stadium and will compete in the 10km and half marathon races.