• Kyodo

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Japanese-Cambodian comedian Hiroshi Neko will represent Cambodia in the men’s marathon event at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, a senior Olympic official in Cambodia told Kyodo News on Tuesday.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said the International Olympic Committee has positively responded to Cambodia’s six nominees, including Neko, to represent the country in the men’s marathon in August.

Neko, whose real name is Kuniaki Takizaki, was nominated early this month after he came first among 11 Cambodian runners who took part in a full marathon on May 8 in the country’s southern coastal city of Kep.

He recorded a time of 2 hours, 44 minutes, 2, seconds, 14 minutes ahead of the second-fastest runner.

Neko gained Cambodian citizenship in 2011 and was nominated to represent the country at the 2012 London Olympics, but his nomination status was later rejected by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a year had not elapsed since he gained Cambodian citizenship.

Chamroeun said all six Cambodian athletes — two swimmers, a taekwondo competitor, a wrestler and two runners — will leave for the Rio Games on July 29.

He added, however, that both marathon runners have been allowed to compete as wild cards. This will allow Neko to compete, given the official qualifying time for the men’s marathon is 2:19:00.

Chamroeun said, “It is for the first time that Cambodia will have two marathon runners at one Games, and with the first Cambodian female runner. Both Neko and Ly Nary will become role models for Cambodia’s younger generation, as Cambodia is prepared to host, for the first time in its history, the Southeast Asian Games in 2023.”