STARTING Jan 12 at 5:50am on what should be a Super Sunday in Cambodia, Prasapchoke
Klun-ngern, a Thai wheelchair marathon-er who placed fifth at the 1996 Paralympics,
will go the distance - all 42.195 kilometers to be exact.
He won't be alone.
Klunngern, who finished in Atlanta in a time of 1:32:54 and won a bronze medal in
the 10,000m event, will go for gold in the inaugural Tiger Phnom Penh International
A contest to be decided on a world-standard course stretching from Kandal-Kompong
Cham provincial border to the Phnom Penh Railway Station, the marathon will see a
field of some 150 road-racers from eleven nations.
In it, according to race organizers, the disabled will slightly outnumber the able-bodied
by 88 to an estimated 70-80.
"Society tends to look down upon people with disabilities," says Keith
Edward Carroll, an organizer.
"What we want to demonstrate out of this event is that, yes, disabled people
can contribute to society and that, yes, they can overcome their physical disabilities
by taking part in active sports."
Ten minutes after Klunngern will lead the charge of wheel-borne wonders, the rest
of the pack will set-off for the finish line.
Other would-be Olympians include:
- Christopher Moon, a Briton who lost a leg to an antipersonnel land-mine, while
on-tour as a deminer in southern Africa;
- 42 other amputees, part of a Mines Advisory Group relay team, who will each cover
a kilometer in solidarity with Moon who also served a stint here for Halo Trust;
- Amnuay Klingyoo, a blind runner from Thailand who will be guided to the end;
- Five of Cambodia's brightest prospects in the short, middle, and long-distance
Highlights will include a 10.5km wheelchair race as well as a 3km wheelchair sprint
from the railway station to the roundabout at the north end of Monivong and back.
Winnings - the prize for first place being $500 - will be awarded equitably to the
top five men and women finishers in both the open and wheelchair categories.
There is also a separate category, say organizers, for Cambodian men and women. The
winners in the over-40 bracket, however, will only receive $250 each.
Not all the disabled participants - or able-bodied ones at that - are expected to
finish Sunday's test.
Those who only complete a half-marathon won't take home any prize money, but they
will be commended for their spirit.
Anthony Kevin, the Australian Ambassador, who, over the past six months, has somehow
squeezed three 20km training runs per week in between the rigors of diplomacy, is
aiming to go the distance, but will settle for the halfway mark.
"A marathon is open to everyone - professionals who want to run the course in
the fastest time, and people like me who simply want to finish the course,"
he says. "I'm hoping to go all the way, but I'll be happy even if I complete
half the course."
"We are hoping that the Phnom Penh marathon will encourage the sport of long-distance
running among Cambodians," adds Kevin.
"There is no reason that they shouldn't be good at this sport. Cambodians have
shown that they can go a long way on very little."
To help support some of the handicapped entries, AusAid earmarked $6,000 toward the
construction of racing wheelchairs by local amputees at Veterans International.
The organizers hope that from the interest and sponsorship generated by the event,
Cambodia will one day be right up-there with the world-class marathons: Boston, New
"We're trying to get an international-standard event started in Cambodia,"
With the goal of being sanctioned one day by the International Amateur Athletics
Federation (IAAF) and the Association of International Marathons and Road Races (AIMS),
the sport's two governing bodies, this year's course was measured with Swiss-watch
precision by an AIMS official.
The route, measured with two calibrated bicycles, has a correctional factor of 42
meters added-on - an extra meter for every kilometer - according to Cathal Kerr,
a marathon organizer.
Although Kerr is realistic that IAAF sanctioning is at least two years down the road,
he swears that on Sunday, Phnom Penh will do what New York City failed to do in the
Back then, Big Apple races, dominated by the American Alberto Salazar, notes Kerr,
actually fell 150 meters short of the mark for legitimate marathons.