As the Khmer Amateur Athletic Federation prepares for a meeting next Thursday in which it will discuss whether Cambodian runner Hem Bunting or Japanese comedian Takizaki Kuniaki will represent Cambodia at the London Olympic Games, Mr. Bunting’s relationship with the federation remains fragile. Mr. Takizaki, however, will meet with the body next week to discuss his bid to represent Cambodia at the games.
National Olympic Committee (NOC) Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun said Mr. Takizaki is currently training in Japan, but will fly to Cambodia next week to meet with the federation and the NOC on March 17 to decide how much sponsorship money he will give toward this year’s Phnom Penh Marathon in June. As a co-sponsor of the marathon last year, Mr. Takizaki gave $3,000 toward the race, which cost $20,000 in total, Mr. Chamroeun said. This year, he is expected to be the main sponsor, he added.
Mr. Bunting, meanwhile, is currently training in Kenya’s Rift Valley at the world-renowned high-altitude camp in Iten, and has set his eyes on the Paris Marathon, which he will race on April 15 with the hopes of making the 2:18 Olympic qualifying time.
Agriculture and Professionals, Inc, a Japanese investment company based in Cambodia that is also a donor to the NOC, is covering Mr. Bunting’s training expenses in Kenya, according to a source close to the federation and Mr. Bunting who did not wish to be named due to the sensitive nature of choosing Cambodia’s Olympic marathon runner.
The investment firm began sponsoring Mr. Bunting in January as it launched a new Web design business in Cambodia and was looking for ways to support the country, the source said.
Mr. Chamroeun, the NOC secretary-general, said on Friday that Cambodia must submit its list of Olympic competitors to the International Olympic Committee by the end of the month, but said it won’t be too late to add Mr. Bunting to the lineup if he does qualify in Paris.
“As it looks now, Bunting is not in the federation, so he probably won’t go to the Olympics. But if he qualifies, he can go and I wish him luck. We can always add him to the list after the end-of-March deadline,” he said.
Neither Mr. Bunting nor Mr. Takizaki has made the cut in terms of the required marathon time so far, but each is very close, with Mr. Bunting’s best time at 2:25, only five minutes faster than Mr. Takizaki’s 2:30.
Mr. Chamroeun also said that Mr. Bunting’s standing with the federation that saw him expelled from the athletics body has not improved and is threatening his Olympic hopes.
“One journalist asked Bunting to contact the federation for his own good, but Bunting stubbornly said the federation should first approach him,” Mr. Chamroeun said.
Keo Visal, Mr. Takizaki’s coordinator in Cambodia, said Mr. Takizaki is nervous about the federation’s verdict on whether he will run for Cambodia or not, but said he is focusing his attention on his training.
“There are many rules, so everybody has to meet and talk,” Mr. Visal said.
Mr. Takizaki, to whom the federation offered Cambodian citizenship before he competed in November’s Southeast Asian Games as Cambodia’s runner, is also planning to donate money to underprivileged Cambodian athletes and the Red Cross in Cambodia, Mr. Visal said.
As a Cambodian, Mr. Visal said: “My feeling is that Cambodians should go to the Olympics for the country if they have the chance, but [Mr. Takizaki] wants to be Cambodian.”
A professional comedian in Japan, Mr. Takizaki is famous for making cat noises and pawing gestures in his comedic acts.
Time Ticking on Cambodia’s Olympic Marathon Decision