Cambodia’s most successful long distance runner, Hem Bunting, capped the country’s clean sweep in the third Sihanoukville-Angkor Beer International Half Marathon men’s event yesterday, even as a French teacher from Phnom Penh, Veronique Messina, took the honours in the women’s race.
A late surge of entries from tourists and locals boosted the number of participants to a record 2,070, with close to 300 runners from overseas.
Declared one of the most beautiful bays in the world, Sihanoukville’s tourist hot spot Occheuteal Beach proved a perfect starting point early yesterday morning as the participants began to assemble well before first light.
When nearly 200 were sent on their journey for the 21km charity run, Hem Bunting was off to a leisurely stride, but within the next mile he was already at the head of the field. At the halfway point, Bunting was beginning to put daylight between him and the rest, though his fellow countryman Ma Viro was not far behind.
The Cambodian pair turned in for the final stretch well ahead of the pack. Bunting recorded a time of one hour, 16 minutes and nine seconds to emerge the winner, despite this being far slower than many of his previous triumphs.
Ma Viro clocked in at 1:16:17 to finish a creditable second, seven minutes ahead of another Cambodian, Phan Sopheak.
“I have run faster timings before but today it was a bit different going through the gradients,” Hem Bunting told the Post after the race.
“I will run in every competitive race that is held in the country. I am looking forward to the full marathon in Siem Reap [on August 17] and I am also trying to get a sponsor for my trip to Australia for a marathon there.”
In the women’s event, Veronique Messina, who was third last year, went one better by winning in 1:42:36, well ahead of Becky Snyder Ballou of the United States. Ireland’s Ceri Davis finished third.
In the supporting 10km event, Cambodia’s Chea Samphors was fastest in the men’s run while France’s Chloe Laboisne took the top spot in the women’s section.
Franz Gradinger of Austria finished a minute behind Samphors but well clear of Cambodia’s Theaka Tep in third place.
Local runner Heng Mey Chu did well to earn second place behind Laboisne, keeping at bay Kuester Gabi of Germany.
Hundreds of men, women and children of all ages and athletic abilities took part in the 3km fun run and walk.
“We are very happy with the turnout. Our estimate was around 1,500 participants but we far exceeded that expectation,” National Olympic Committee of Cambodia secretary-general Vath Chamroeun told the Post.
“The overseas participation nearly doubled compared to last year. It is a very good sign.
“As we head to our first full marathon in August this year at Angkor Wat, the response has been very good. Right now 300 overseas runners have already registered for that event,” he added.