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Comedian Neko wins Cambodia’s first modern marathon

Kyodo

Japan-born comedian Hiroshi Neko won Cambodia’s first international marathon in front of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province on Sunday.

Neko, 37, a naturalized Cambodian, finished in 2 hours, 45 minutes and 28 seconds, while Japan’s Ba Gan took second in 3:01:34 and third place went to Frenchman Yan Defond, who finished in 3:20:04.

Following the race, Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, told Kyodo News that Neko and two other Cambodian marathoners, Hem Bunting and Ma Viro, had been told not to compete seriously because all three will participate in the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in September.

Hem Bunting dropped out half way Sunday and Ma Viro skipped the race, Vath Chamroeun said.

He said that before the race, the three Cambodians were advised by their coaches to not run under 2:35:0 to save their energy for the games in South Korea. All three will soon be sent to train in Japan to get better prepared for the marathon in Incheon.

When asked why Neko won the race, Vath Chamroeun said it was likely because the hot weather affected the other runners more than Neko, who was born Kuniaki Takizaki. Hiroshi Neko is his stage name.

In the women’s marathon, Frenchwoman Messina Veionique took first in 3:36:08, Wai Fongchan of China took second in 3:43:25, and Mari Kauri of Finland ended third just over two minutes behind Wai.

The Angkor Empire Marathon, designed to draw more tourists to Siem Reap during the rainy season, drew 415 foreign runners and four Cambodians.

The event included a 21-km half marathon and a 10-km fun run, attracting 2,630 professional and amateur runners, including nearly 1,400 from 42 countries.

Thong Khon, Cambodia’s minister of tourism, said Sunday’s race was the first full 42.195-km marathon held in Cambodia.