The ever growing popularity of the Angkor Wat International half marathon is well reflected in this year’s record entry numbers as the remarkable charity run sets for its 15th edition around the Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap on Sunday.
Less than 250 runners from 14 countries took part in the inaugural run in 1996, but 15 years on the number has reached a staggering 3,850 from 53 countries. Scores of aspiring distance runners were also denied entry after failing to register on time a couple of weeks ago.
The rush of excitement and enthusiasm for the milestone run this year has been unprecedented. The international event offers no purse but rather pride in participation, doubling up as a run for charity and an irresistible tourist attraction.
Jointly organised by the Khmer Amateur Athletics Federation, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia and the Angkor Wat Marathon Executive Committee, with active cooperation from local NGO Hearts of Gold and the Japan Medical Joggers Association, the day-long athletics meet is crammed with several other attractions, such as a 21-kilometre wheelchair race, a run for the handicapped, a 10km race for men and women and a 3km fun-run for families. A bike race and a rally have been thrown into the mix as well.
It is a measure of its stature that every continent is represented by participants in the race which flags off at 6am along a winding journey that starts and finishes in front of the historic Angkor Wat temple. The United Kingdom heads the list of entries with 357, followed closely by the United States with 318, Australia (269), Japan (262) and France (145).
“It is a striking improvement in numbers this year from the last,” said NOCC General Secretary Vath Chamroeun yesterday. “As many as 3,490 from 47 countries took part in 2009. It is a sign that the event is growing in size and popularity.”
Over the last 15 years the event has raised as much as a quarter of a million dollars for social causes, and the introduction this year of a pledge system is expected to mobilise more donations. The proceeds of the run will go to such charitable institutions as the Cambodian Red Cross and CMAC, an organisation dedicated to the clearing of landmines, as well as many other NGOs promoting social causes.
On the eve of the half marathon, a gala dinner will be held in the sprawling temple complex with a special performance from a Japanese Drum troupe.
“You may not find big names of marathon here,” noted Vath Chamroeun. “Mostly the runners are here for a [charitable] cause and the spirit of tourism. Don’t be surprised if some runners take time off and snap pictures and get back to their running shoes again.”
So far Hem Bunting has been the only Cambodian pride to win this event in 2006 and Mok Buntheoeun had twice been beaten into second place in the last three years. But surprisingly the Chinese pair of Zhan Donglin (men) and Wang Xiujie (women) who took the honours in the inaugural event still hold the records for fastest times. Zhan Donglin’s 1:05:19 and Wang Xiujie’s 1:12:27 will hopefully spur the would-be champions to go for it that little bit harder on Sunday.