Pain, Smiles For Olympian Homecoming

If you wanted to know how To Rithya fared in the Olympic marathon, all you had to do was check his footwear.

He wasn’t running, and he wasn’t even walking too well when he arrived home at Poch­entong Airport on Thursday morn­ing with his three Cam­bodian Olympic teammates. The big toe on his right foot was too swollen for shoes, so he wore a gray woolen sock and sandals.

With his toe aching and his energy drained, To Rithya stumbled across the finish line Sunday in Sydney, 3 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds after he started the 42.195-km race. He collapsed and was carried away in a stre­t­ch­er. He quickly recovered.

“My energy started becoming problematic around the 30th kilometer,” he admitted Thursday while greeting his family at the airport. “It was cold. The temperature was around 15 degrees, and it was very windy.

“My foot started bothering me around the 35-km mark. I injured the toenail somehow going down a hill. But I think [the crowd in] Australia was proud to see a Cam­bodian finish the race be­cause about 20 people gave up.”

To Rithya came in ahead of one other finisher, and 19 other runners dropped out.

The huge crowds in the main Olympic Stadium in Sydney were also an inspiration to wom­en’s 100-meter runner Ouk Chan­than. Her time of 14.13 seconds was slowest of all the contestants, but she enjoyed every second of it.

“I was excited just to run there,” Ouk Chanthan said. “That place is just so huge and modern.”

She and the two Olympic swim­mers, Hem Raksmey and Hem Kiry, will continue to train and compete. Not so for 38-year-old To Rithya, who had the honor of carrying Cambodia’s flag in the opening ceremonies.

“I have competed in 20 mara­thons, and that was the toughest,” To Rithya said. “In the future, I’m not going to go to any other race. I will train the next young Cambodian runner.”

 

 

 

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