Athletics: Olympians to feature in Great Eastern Women's Run

Left: Nary Ly carrying the Cambodian flag after crossing the finish line in the women's marathon at the Rio Games. She finished in 133rd place but was proud to bring happiness to her country after becoming the first Cambodian female marathoner to run
Nary Ly carrying the Cambodian flag after crossing the finish line in the women's marathon at the Rio Games. She finished in 133rd place but was proud to bring happiness to her country after becoming the first Cambodian female marathoner to run at the Olympics. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Left: Nary Ly carrying the Cambodian flag after crossing the finish line in the women's marathon at the Rio Games. She finished in 133rd place but was proud to bring happiness to her country after becoming the first Cambodian female marathoner to run
Above: Olympian Mary Joy Tabal of the Philippines is hoping to put a disappointing Rio performance behind her by doing well at the Great Eastern Women's Run next Sunday.PHOTO: CEBU DAILY NEWS

Cambodian and Filipina who ran in Rio marathon will compete in 21km race

Marathoner Nary Ly could have been mistaken for being a medal winner at the recent Rio Olympics after crossing the finish line with her arms aloft, carrying a smile on her face and the Cambodian flag in her hands.

Instead, she was the last athlete to complete the 42km race, finishing in 133rd place. Due to the gruelling conditions, 24 athletes did not finish the event.

It was a historic moment for Cambodia as the 44-year-old became the first female marathoner from her country to run at the Olympics.

Ly, who was given a wild card to participate in Rio as Cambodia did not have a track and field athlete who qualified for the Games on merit, said: "I didn't realise how happy I looked. It was such a proud moment for me and for my country.

"I knew I was the last runner to finish because the (convoy) escort were just behind me.

"I felt scared when I saw some runners who were fitter than me drop out along the route. But I told myself that if I wanted to bring happiness and pride to my country, I had to reach the finish line."

To prepare for the Olympics, Ly, - who was sent by the Red Cross to France when she was nine as a refugee from the civil war, but eventually returned to her homeland at 26 - quit her job as a researcher in Phnom Penh. That allowed her to train at a high-altitude camp in Iten, Kenya. It was her third stint there, following visits in 2010 and 2012.

While she treasures the experience of running at the Olympics, she hopes to pass the torch to younger athletes.

She said: "Even though I would not reject (the opportunity) if asked to take part in the SEA Games or Asian Games, that's not my priority. I hope that more young Cambodian girls can come forward to achieve better and faster timings."

But she noted that it is an uphill task to train for distance running in Cambodia.

For instance, because her pre-dawn route is dark, a friend follows her on a motorcycle taxi so that its headlight illuminates the the road in front of her.

"Many girls in Cambodia don't run because it is tough. The traffic jams are bad and it's very hot in the day," said Ly.

But she will face no such hassles when she takes part in the Great Eastern Women's Run next Sunday at The Float@Marina Bay. Joining her in the 21km category is Mary Joy Tabal of the Philippines, who finished fourth in last year's edition of the annual event.

Tabal, 27, was also the first Olympic female marathoner from the Philippines.

But unlike Ly, Tabal had only painful memories of the race, which she said left her crying for a week because she was so disappointed with her result. She clocked 3hr 2min 27sec to finish 124th, a far cry from her personal best of 2:43:31, her qualifying time for the Olympics.

Tabal, a silver medallist at last year's SEA Games in Singapore, said: "I was heartbroken after Rio. A lot of people were proud of me, except myself, because it was way off my own target.

"So I am really looking forward to the next race in Singapore because I want to redeem myself and erase the disappointment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Olympians in GE Women's Run'. Print Edition | Subscribe