translated by Brett Larner
Five athletes from Laos took part in the Jan. 14 Oita City Half Marathon for the first time, running alongside amateur and corporate-league runners alike as part of Oita's biggest-ever field. Despite surprise at the bitter cold and the speed of the Japanese athletes, all five Laotian runners completed the race.
Of the four men in the group, three were running a half marathon for the first time in their lives. "We were very surprised that here in Japan even the older people and women run so fast," they all agreed. But even so, Saisawatt Tamwonchatt, 21, placed 3rd in the general men's division. "This was my first time so I'm pretty beat, but I ran a good time," he said. He is already looking toward his next goal: "In February I'm going to run a full marathon back home."
The man responsible for the Laotian athletes' invitation to the race, Kenji Ozawa, 46, gave a mixed evaluation of their performances but expressed hope for their future growth, saying, "I'm glad they were all able to finish, but apart from Tamawonchatt their times were not really anything to brag about. They need to train harder." Ozawa moved to Laos in Sept., 2011 as a volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to help develop the country's long distance athletes. This race marked the end of the project. "We plan to continue to exchange email, and if the opportunity arises I'd like to return to Laos as a visiting coach."
Translator's note: Tamwonchatt's mark of 1:13:27 appears to have been a Laotian national record.