Hem Bunting’s total dominance of the Kingdom’s long distance races continued yesterday as the 28-year-old won the Phnom Penh International Half Marathon for the fourth year in a row with a measure of comfort to make out a strong case for a recall to the national squad bound for the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, this September.
The charity run, which surpassed all previous participation numbers, touching close to 4,500, raised funds for Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital and served various other causes, including help for the families of landmine victims. It also marked three special occasions – the 120th Olympic Day, World Environment Day and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath’s birthday (this Wednesday).
Japan had the distinction of fielding the most number of participants among the 23 foreign countries represented, with the event, recording nearly a 30 per cent increase in entries compared with last year.
“I told a friend of mine that I will do it in 1 hour and 14 minutes this time, and I am happy I went fractionally under [1 hour, 13 minutes, 22 seconds] and did a faster time than last year,” Hem Bunting told the Post moments after leading a Cambodian trifecta to the podium.
Japanese comedian Neko Hiroshi, who sought and obtained Cambodian citizenship two years ago, was a hard-chasing second in 1 hour, 14 minutes, 50 seconds, with seasoned Ma Viro filling the frame at 1 hour, 16 minutes, 8 seconds to ensure a clean sweep for home runners. The Cambodian trio outstayed the other 42 male half marathon contenders by a long way.
“I hope to run in Korea. I see no problem now” said Bunting with a beaming smile, clearly dropping a hint that his protracted personal battle with the Khmer Amateur Athletics Federation since his omission from the national squad after the 2011 Guangzhou Asiad could be finally resolved.
As a profession, 35-year-old Veronique Messina teaches French in the Cambodian capital, but her passion is running.
In the women’s 21km event, the French winner of the Sihanoukville International Half Marathon in March this year taught her 18 other rivals a few lessons in change of pace and conservation of energy as she emerged victorious by a proverbial mile, putting 20 minutes between herself and Ceri Davies of Ireland, who in turn was nearly three minutes ahead of American Leslie Ann Frese.
“Conditions were quite good in the morning. It was not so hot and I could race freely,” said Messina, who clocked in at 1 hour, 37 minutes, 50 seconds, a timing slower than her personal best of 1 hour, 35 minutes.
“I am really excited about the full marathon in Angkor Wat [on August 17]. It is Cambodia’s first, and it is such a pleasure going around the temple complex. But I am planning to run a marathon in China next month and my trip to Siem Reap will depend on how I feel after this,” she added.
As many as 730 runners took off for the men’s 10km race. But by the time this big field sorted itself out, it was evident that the experienced national runner Kieng Samorn would have to contend with his compatriot Phann Sopheak for the top honours.
Samorn managed a stronger kick in the dash to the finish to fend off Sopheak, barely two seconds separating the two, with the winner stopping the clock at 33:58. Kano Thoven made it an all-Cambodian affair by checking in third at 35:05.
In a two-way tussle for supremacy, Japan’s Maki Kunimatsu (48:27.03) won the women’s 10km event ahead of American Cierra Gillard (48:42.40). Another American, Caitlyn Shea (52:04), finished third in a race that attracted 318 entries.
Yesterday’s added attraction was the popular 3km fun run for people of all ages and athletic abilities. Huge participation of students was a notable feature this year.
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia President Thong Khon described the greater turn out as a sign of the event’s growing popularity and an affirmation of Cambodia’s fast emerging status as an exciting sports tourism destination.
NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun, who is also an adviser to the Ministry of Tourism, told the Post: “The steady climb in the number of foreigners taking part in these events indicate that sports-driven tourism is an attractive proposition for visitors to go alongside the breathtaking experience of Angkor Wat.
“The response to Cambodia’s first full marathon to be run around the Angkor Wat temple complex in mid-August has been very good. So far we have close to 1,000 registrations, the bulk of them from overseas, and we expect that number to go up to at least 3,000 by the time the race is run.”