translated and edited by Brett Larner
Newly minted Cambodian citizen, professional comedian and former Japanese national Hiroshi Neko ran the Nov. 16 Southeast Asian Games marathon in Indonesia in a bid to make Cambodia's Olympic team for next summer's London Olympics. Neko ran a ten-second PB of 2:37:39 for 5th place. Five days before the race his top rival for the Cambodian Olympic team, national record holder Hem Bunting (25), withdrew from competition and Cambodia's other two marathon entrants switched events to the 800 m. As the only Cambodian entrant in the marathon Neko cleared the Cambodian Olympic Committee's criterion of being the top Cambodian finisher, but he was informed before the race that the Committe would be looking for a time close to Bunting's SB of 2:31, set in Australia in August, to consider him. Whether he is now offered an Olympic ticket remains the Committee's decision.
With high temperatures and humidity despite the early morning start, Neko lost touch with the lead pack. Throughout the second half of the race he slapped and swatted both of his legs. "I couldn't reach my target of a 2:32 because of the limits of my ability," he told reporters. "I'm in shape and felt good. It's disappointing." But although his fate with regard to the Olympics remains unclear, Neko has not given up hope. "I'm still aiming for it," he said.
The 147 cm Neko finished 3rd at an international half marathon in Cambodia last December and was contacted by the Cambodian Olympic Committee with an offer of becoming a Cambodian citizen to try to make the country's London Olympic Team. Although Neko's PB is far slower than the men's Olympic B-standard of 2:18:00, countries without any qualifiers in track and field are considered a special case and are eligible to send one male and one female athlete to compete in a single event. If another athlete from the country qualifies in another track and field event the special exemption is rescinded.
If the Cambodian Olympic Committee decides Neko's performance at the Southeast Asian Games was insufficient, he will still have another chance to run a faster time at another race to meet the committee's criteria. With this in mind Neko is planning to run February's Tokyo Marathon where he hopes to break 2:31.