Runner number 401 was completely exhausted and suffering from low blood pressure. She finished last in the 5,000 meters by a wide margin, and in a roaring rainstorm she trudged alone around the track in a stadium with almost no spectators.
Bo Samnang, 20, finished the race anyway.
Her rain-soaked performance at the Southeast Asian Games (hosted by her native Cambodia this month) would have been something of a footnote to a tournament unknown to most sports fans outside the region. . But when her video went viral on social media, she became an unlikely national celebrity.
“I knew I couldn’t win, but I told myself I shouldn’t give up,” she said in an interview.
She added that the thunderous applause from a handful of supporters helped her during her struggle, and that she felt obligated to follow through as she represented her country.
Bou Samnang, who graduated from high school last year, did not expect the international spotlight when he arrived in his capital and hometown of Phnom Penh on May 8 for the 5,000m final. She was grateful just to be able to compete.
A few weeks ago, Bou Samnang suffered from particularly severe low blood pressure due to chronic anemia while training in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming. Her doctors told her to stop running for a while, but her coach Kien Samone insisted otherwise.
“She has health problems,” said Kien Samone. “We can’t force her on her.”
But Bou Samnang said she was eager to run in her first international competition, the Southeast Asian Games, and her coach didn’t get in her way.
in the Women’s 5000m finalHeld in a stadium with a capacity of 60,000, Bou Samnang gathered at the start line with the region’s top runners. The eventual winner, Nguyen Thi Oan of Vietnam, won multiple gold medals at the last Southeast Asian Games.
As the starting gun blew and the runners lined up, Bou Samnang took his position at the back of the pack. Within a minute or so, she was so far behind that most of the TV coverage didn’t show her.
But even after Oann and the other runners crossed the finish line, the sky opened and some fans lost interest, but she kept going.
Bou Samnang was set to finish in 22:54, nearly six minutes behind Vietnam’s Oan and about 90 seconds behind compatriot Lang Lomdul. By then, the stadium’s floodlights had gone out, the track was flooded with water, and her pink shoes and red uniform were completely soaked.
Her performance reminded me of other runners who persevered even after falling, including a few who famously won track events. One is Sifan Hassan from the Netherlands, who competed in the 1500m event at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
Runners tend to get less praise when they lose by a large margin. Hong Kong Trail Runners Association secretary-general Steve Brammer said there are exceptions in long-distance events, where it’s common to celebrate the final finisher.Ann Ultra marathon trail race The team he directs there has an ‘Ultimate Finisher’ trophy for just that purpose.
Bou Samnang’s “persistence was inspiring, truly heartwarming and inspiring,” Brammer said in an email.
The health condition of Bo Samnang, who finished last in this month’s 5,000m race, prevented him from running the 1,500m race as planned, the coach said. However, after a video of her determined performance circulated online, she received the following message: public acclaim From the King of Cambodia and Mr. A $10,000 bonus The income from Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife is equivalent to several years of the average Cambodian income.
Bo Samnang, whose father died in 2018, is the third of four children. She will use the bonus to study law at a university in Cambodia and will continue her athletic career, she said.
Mother Mai Met said she cried when her daughter finished last in the 5,000m race. But her grief was tempered by the outpouring of public support that followed.
“I’m very happy,” said Mai Met, 44, who has supported her family by working in a garment factory for many years.
Her determined finish embodies the “ideal of sport,” said Edgar K. Tam, a sports psychologist in Singapore who has worked with athletes across Southeast Asia.
He said the attention Bou Samnang is receiving is notable because Cambodian athletes tend to be better at martial arts than track events at regional competitions.
But the example she set will resonate far beyond Southeast Asia, he added.
“That’s what life is about: moving forward, learning from failure and bouncing back,” he said. “If you take this in this spirit, it will be an inspiration.”