The growing popularity of the Angkor Wat International half marathon and its supporting events is well reflected this year, with a record number of more than 7,000 entries expected by the time this charity run is flagged off on Sunday morning from the wonderous Angkor Wat temple complex, declared by UNESCO as a world Heritage site in 1992.
Less than 250 runners from 14 countries took part in the inaugural run in 1996. But 17 years on, the number this year has touched an all-time high with close to 4,000 overseas runners from over 50 countries lining up with 3,000 local participants.
The rush of excitement and enthusiasm for the 17th running of Cambodia’s most prestigious sporting event has been unprecedented. As a run for charitable causes, the half marathon offers no purse but guarantees pride of participation.
Jointly organised by the Khmer Amateur Athletics Federation, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia and Angkor Wat Marathon executive committee with active co-operation from not-for-profit organisation and NGO Hearts of Gold and Japan Medical Joggers Association, the half marathon day’s long card is crammed with several other attractions like the 10-kilometre run for men and women and a three-kilometre fun run for runners of all ages and ability.
Over 500 cyclists are expected to take part in a bike race around the temple complex on Saturday.
This year’s edition takes on added significance as it marks the 60th anniversary of Japan-Cambodia diplomatic relations and the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan partnership.
“It is a striking improvement in numbers this year from the last. Participation by foreigners has shot up by 15 per cent compared with last year. It is a sign that the event is growing in size and popularity,” secretary-general of the NOCC, Vath Chamroeun told the Post yesterday.
Over the past 17 years the event has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for social causes, and the introduction two years ago of a pledge system has mobilised more donations.
The proceeds from this event will go to such charitable institutions as Cambodian Red Cross and CMAC, the organisation dedicated to the clearing of landmines, as well as many other NGOs promoting social causes.
“You may not find big names of marathon. Mostly the runners are here for a cause and a spirit of tourism, said Vath Chamroeun, who is also an adviser to the Ministry of Tourism.
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 to this day.
Zhan Donglin’s 1:05:19 and Wang Xiujie’s 1:12:27 will no doubt challenge Sunday’s participants to go for it that much harder.