Cambodia’s most successful long distance runner Hem Bunting lived up to his reputation yesterday by winning the third International Phnom Penh Half Marathon, one of the country’s three charity runs alongside Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Like his two previous wins in this event, Hem Bunting, who has a SEA Games silver medal among his worthy collection, had nothing to fear as he settled into a pace of his choice.
In one of the closest finishes ever seen in these stamina sapping runs, the women’s event was won by Veionique Messina of France, barely a fraction of a second ahead of Cambodia’s Ly Nary.
The city’s premier running event, now in its third edition, has added significance in that it marks the confluence of three special occasions – the Queen Mother’s birthday celebration, World Environment Day and International Olympic Day.
A record number of more than 4,000 runners in three categories were flagged off from the start and finish point in front of the Royal Palace an hour after first light. The participation numbers this year show a marked increase of nearly 65 per cent in overseas entries and 50 per cent among locals.
When the blue riband half marathon field came under the starter’s orders, Hem Bunting was one among the crowd but once he settled down into his stride and brought his endurance and experience into play, the rest seemed to belong to another parish.
The notable exception, however, was Japanese-Cambodian Neko Hiroshi, who chased Hem Bunting desperately hard and eventually finished a minute and a half behind in second place. Australia’s Gary Breen hacked through a tiring pack to finish third, almost seven minutes behind the winner.
An ecstatic Hiroshi, who became a naturalised Cambodian citizen last year, was more than pleased with his effort. “Bunting was too strong and I am happy with my performance,” he told the Post, as he jumped around with joy.
It may be recalled that the 35-year-old Japanese TV comedian was at the centre of a controversy when he was picked to represent the Kingdom at the London Olympics just after getting his Cambodian citizenship, a decision that was later reversed following a directive from the world governing body IAAF on eligibility criteria. Hem Bunting, meanwhile, can be proud of another well-executed race victory.
“I had set a sectional target for myself this year. I set my watch to a little under four minutes per [kilometre] and I stuck to it. Overall I am happy with my timing of 1:15.34 because it wasn’t an easy route with so many corners to turn,” he told the Post yesterday.
It soon became evident after the start that Veionique Messina, who is a French teacher settled in Phnom Penh, and Ly Nary, who has working interests in both Cambodia and the US, would fight every yard of the way.
When the two turned the final bend towards the finishing line, there was nothing much to choose between the two. Messina’s strong final kick, however, proved decisive.
Cambodian trio Ma Viro, Chun Sokphoung and Kieng Samorn finished in that order at the top of the heap in the men’s 10km run. Ma Viro, who has been doing consistently well in these type of races, recorded 34.45 minutes for the race, with Chun Sokphoung checking in at 34.50. These two had a comfortable margin to spare over Kieng Samorn, who represented Cambodia in 800m at the London Games last year.
The women’s 10km version went to Australia’s Emily Sims in a time of 45:47 ahead of Mulhem Kaitlyn, an expat living in Phnom Penh. Collier Alice of the US missed by a few yards to catch up with the runner-up, who timed 48:01 to the American’s 48:12.
The 3km fun run for women was won by Ally Hoy ahead of Heng Meng Chou and E Yanot. In the men’s section, Ely San went on to score a comfortable win over Mar Vor in second and Top Sophon back in third.
“Every year this event is growing bigger and this year’s huge increase in foreigner participation is very encouraging,” Tourism Minister and President of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Thong Khon said.
NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun confirmed there were more runners this time compared to last year. “We are succeeding in our efforts to boost tourism-related sports,” he said.