Cambodian Olympic runner Hem Bunting placed 73rd in the marathon Sunday, the final day of the Beijing Olympics, crossing the finish line fourth from last in 2:33:32.
Of the 95 runners that began the race, 19 runners dropped out amid Beijing’s heat and humidity.
“It’s a world-class competition, not an Asian or regional race,” said Yem Oddom, secretary-general of the Khmer Amateur Athletes Federation, who was in contact Sunday with the Cambodian Olympic team in Beijing.
Marathoners started at Tiananmen Square at 7:30 am Sunday amid relatively cool weather—24 degrees Celsius with 52 percent humidity—though reports said the heat rose steadily with the sun and slowed the pace. Still, Hem Bunting, 23, slowly crept up the ranks during the race, going from 86th at the halfway mark to 73rd.
While gold medalist Wanjiru Kamau of Kenya crossed the finish line in 2:06:32—shattering the Olympic record by nearly three minutes—only three marathoners ran personal bests on the 42.2-km course. Hem Bunting ran six minutes slower than his personal best of 2:26:28, set in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games.
The third-youngest racer in Sunday’s marathon and the only competitor from Southeast Asia, Hem Bunting in June doubted whether he even wanted to compete in the Beijing Games because, he said, athletes were “not being taken care of” by the National Olympic Committee.
Considering it was his first Olympics, Hem Bunting has a bright future ahead if he receives adequate support, said Phay Sok, his coach.
Phay Sok said Hem Bunting lacked equipment and suitable training grounds in the lead-up to the Beijing Games.
“It’s not a surprise that Hem Bunting could not break his record from the Asean Games last year,” Phay Sok said. “As far as I know, he was very hopeless and depressed because of the lack of support.”
Cambodia’s Olympic team is scheduled to fly home tonight.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kurczy)