Cambodia’s seasoned long-distance runner Hem Bunting displayed solid staying power in winning the men’s 21-kilometre race in the Olympic Day Phnom Penh Half Marathon on Saturday.
The Angkor Wat Half Marathon winner set his own tempo and terms from the moment he took charge of a huge field that included notable foreign entries.
He checked in untroubled and unextended in a smart time of 1 hour 11 minutes and 26 seconds, a clear five minutes ahead of Neko Hiroshi of Japan, who in turn finished well ahead of local runner Keang Samorn.
Scotching rumours that have been floating around for some time that he would quit distance running, Hem Bunting said after the race that he had never felt better training hard and was determined to stake a claim for the SEA Games gold later in the year.
“I am happy I won here. It wasn’t easy, the route was challenging,” he said.
The women’s 21km event, meanwhile, was mired in controversy as two groups of runners took two different routes, plunging the outcome into a state of utter confusion. Amid claims and counter-claims, race organisers declared Jill Hamill of England the winner, crediting her with a time of 1:39.39. Clementini Tanguide of France was awarded the runner-up spot, with Robin Martez of USA claiming third.
The official result was fiercely contested by another group of women led by Cambodia’s Ly Nary and Japan’s Tomoko Yamada. The duo insisted that they had finished one-two respectively, although the organisers dismissed their claims on the grounds that they, along with several others, had taken the wrong route.
The controversy raged for quite a while with the organisers stuck to their guns. In a statement of rebuttal, Ly Nary, who is eyeing a berth in the London Olympics Marathon next year, said she was shocked beyond words that the organisers were not prepared to own up their mistake.
“At around 16k, Tomoko was leading, I was behind her, and there were quite a few runners following us. The volunteers who indicated the route at Choun Nat roundabout [near NagaWorld] asked the Japanese leader to turn left to the finish line,” Nary told The Post yesterday.
“Even one of the volunteers told a family member of ours that all women should finish here. It was quite close between the two of us.
“I just sprinted past [Tomoko] in the last 100 yards or so. When we finished the organisers said we were 1-2. But at the prize distribution, they announced someone else as the winner.
“At least they could have consulted both of us. I am at a loss to understand how this could have happened,” she added.
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia secretary-general Vath Chamroeun told The Post he was aware of the controversy but stood behind the decision to disqualify the group.
“It’s up to the runners to study the route well and follow it,” he said, admitting that a mistake might have been made by a volunteer.
“This is the first time that an event like this is being organised. I am sorry for what happened to Ly Nary and Tomoko Yamada, but we cannot ignore the runners who have taken the proper route. We have to honour those results and officially they are the top finishers.”
In other results, Cambodian runners Ma Virou and Svay Chanthon took the top two places in the men’s 8km run in the 18-36 age category. Scotland’s Khor Lan finished third.
In the 36-45 category over the same distance, Sath Sam Oeun won a close call against Khut Sros. Vantha Sou took top honours in the 46 years and up division, in front of Sey Rath and Vicheth Mao.
Sok Mongdara finished at the top of the heap in the men’s 5km race for 15-17-year-olds, ahead of Sun Daravuth and San Thavin.
Meanwhile, Pip Miner, Thor Davy and Carter Shah – all based in Phnom Penh – filled the top three places in the women’s 8km class for ages 18-35.
Rebecca Sussey of New Zealand won the women’s 8km race for the 36-45 age group, with Australian Cat Rogell and Lisa Newman taking second and third places.