Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Marathon champ in battle against AIDS

Marathon champ in battle against AIDS

Marathon champ in battle against AIDS

marathon.jpg
marathon.jpg

Marathon runner To Rithya, 43, is one of Cambodia's most famous athletes. He took part in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic marathons and carried the national flag at the opening ceremony of both games.

T

ENS of thousands of people were on their feet cheering as To Rithya, one of Cambodia's

most famous athletes, entered the Olympic Stadium in Sydney 2000.

Exhausted and dehydrated, he battled to complete the final 400 metres of the 26 mile

Olympic Marathon.

It didn't matter that his muscles were screaming with pain and his lungs were on

fire, or even that he was the 80th of 81 runners completing the race.

What mattered was that far away the 11 million Cambodians he represented were willing

him on towards the finishing line.

Giving every last drop of energy to the end, Rithya collapsed from exhaustion and

dehydration as he crossed the line.

He may not have picked up a medal, but the whole of Cambodia could be proud at this

39-year-old runner giving his all to finish in a time of three hours and three minutes.

"The finish of the Olympic Marathon is always inside the stadium, and you have

to run a lap of the track, four hundred meters," he said.

"I was so, so tired but when I entered the stadium the crowd started cheering

me and shouting for Cambodia. That gave me strength, although I had trouble running

in a straight line.

"I had a look at the marathon course on my first day in Sydney and it was very

hilly, I felt I wouldn't be able to get to the end of the road, but then I reminded

myself I was representing the whole of Cambodia and decided I would finish the race."

Sydney was Rithya's second Olympics: he also competed in the 1996 Atlanta games which

heralded Cambodia's return to the international stage after an absence of more than

two decades.

He had the honour of carrying the national flag, leading the team into Olympic Stadium

at the opening ceremony of both events.

He said: "Atlanta and Sydney were both so different to Cambodia, but I preferred

the Atlanta games because the weather was hot like at home.

"The food was very different too. When I first saw western food I thought there

would be a lot of vitamins in to support me. But it didn't taste very good, not as

good as Khmer food."

And now he is taking part in a new battle, using his status to warn young Khmers

of the dangers of AIDS and HIV in a UNESCO-backed campaign.

Rithya can be seen appearing nightly in television commercials along with other sports

stars.

"I am upset Cambodia has such a high rate of HIV/AIDS because it hurts so many

Cambodians," he said. "I wanted to take part in the campaign to spread

the message, that's what's important."

MOST VIEWED

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Visa A holders get to quarantine at Himawari Hotel

    The Ministry of Health has permitted foreign diplomats, UN and International NGO officials to undergo quarantine at Himawari Hotel in the capital in case they do not have a separate place suitable for this purpose, but the government would not be responsible for the expenses.

  • Jabs for kids bring hope for school reopenings

    Cambodia is tentatively planning to reopen schools – at least at the secondary level – when the vaccination of children aged 12-17 is completed, even though daily transmissions and deaths in other age groups remain high. Schools across the country have been suspended since March 20, one month

  • China denies Mekong hacking

    As the US and its allies joined hands last week to expose what they allege to be China’s Ministry of State Security’s malicious cyber activities around the world, the attention also turned to Cambodia with the US Department of Justice claiming that four

  • Governor: Covid subsides in capital

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng said the Covid-19 situation in the capital’s 14 districts has eased, with only two districts still recording a high number of infections. “Transmission cases in all districts are dropping, though they are relatively higher Meanchey and Por Sen Chey.

  • Hun Sen: Get 12-17 age group ready for Covid jabs

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has told parents of children aged 12-17 in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kandal and Preah Sihanouk to get them ready for vaccinations soon. “There is a need to vaccinate children and youths aged 12 to 17. According to the statistics provided