The Lonely Road Of an Olympic Marathoner

At 4 o’clock in the morning, To Rithya has the roads to himself.

Leaving his house located near Tuol Sleng, he may head down Monivong Boulevard, turning left toward the airport. Or he might continue on, crossing the Japan­ese bridge and staying on Nat­ional Route 6.

To Rithya, Cambodia’s mara­thon entrant in the Olympic Games, runs 130-150 km weekly, much of it before the midday heat arrives.

He’s been sticking to this regimen since he took up marathon running eight years ago following a seven-year stretch in which he ran sprint events.

At the Olympics four years ago in the US city of Atlanta, Georgia he ran a 2:47.00 race, earning him 105th place out of 124 runners. His personal best is a 2:34.00, clocked in 1995 at Chiang Mai, Thailand.

It’s a well-organized life. Six hours of sleep a night, no special diet.

During the day, he instructs future teachers and coaches on the finer points of sprint starts, throwing the shot put and javelin, and high jumping and long jumping.

The pay is about $22 a month, which is one reason he hasn’t really encouraged his two young sons to become athletes.

After school, it’s another workout. Before Olympic Stadium closed, he would run up and down the steps in the stands for an hour or more.

He was not happy with his performance in Atlanta and he’s hoping for a better race in Sydney.

“It was really humid,” he said, “and there were a lot of hills on the road.”

When not running, he attended Olympic volleyball basketball, swimming and other track-and-field events. But the language barrier kept him from talking to very many athletes other than the Laotian, Thai and Viet­namese contestants he already knew.

His goal in Sydney is to run a 2:42.00 marathon.

He’s 38 years old, and he guesses this is his final Olympics. But he says he’ll probably keep on running—it’s a tough habit to break.





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