© 2023 KUNR
Celebrating 60 years in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

She finished last, but this runner won fans for not giving up in a pounding rain

Cambodia's Bou Samnang runs in the women's 5,000-meter final despite heavy rain, during the Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh. A video of her finish, minutes after the race was decided, has won over fans around the sporting world.
Duc Dong
/
AFP via Getty Images
Cambodia's Bou Samnang runs in the women's 5,000-meter final despite heavy rain, during the Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh. A video of her finish, minutes after the race was decided, has won over fans around the sporting world.

Updated May 16, 2023 at 3:56 PM ET

She could have just quit. The race was long decided, and rain was falling in torrents. But Bou Samnang was running for her country — Cambodia — so she kept going, racing alone on a track in Phnom Penh. And for that, she is being hailed as an inspiration.

"I tried to reach the finish line because I wanted to show people that in life, even though we go a bit slow or fast, we will reach our destination all the same," she said afterward, according to Agence France-Presse. "So we should not give up. We should try our best."

News of Bou Samnang's persistence spread rapidly: Sports and news outlets around the world shared video of her finishing the women's 5,000-meter race (3.1 miles) on May 8 at the Southeast Asian Games, which Cambodia is hosting for the first time.

She raced that day despite struggling with the effects of anemia, Bou Samnang told the AFP, adding that she was committed to run for her country.

"I knew I was losing. The rain was so heavy," she said. "I had the right to abandon the race, but first I have a duty to represent Cambodia. So I did not give up."

In the footage, the roar of rainfall is punctuated by cheers and shouts of encouragement as a drenched Bou Samnang finally nears and then crosses the finish line, almost six minutes behind the winner, Vietnam's Thi Oanh Nguyen.

Bou Samnang clasped her hands to acknowledge the fans who braved the rain to cheer her on, her face wet with tears and rain as she lifted her country's flag. The athlete said later that she was disappointed to finish last, but also happy to hear people supporting her — and surprised that the video caused such a stir.

Since last week's race, Bou Samnang has continued to win fans in Cambodia and beyond. Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the athlete would get $10,000 as a reward for her determination.

Cambodia's Bou Samnang stretches before training in the country's capital, Phnom Penh, on Saturday, days after she became an unlikely star at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.
Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Cambodia's Bou Samnang stretches before training in the country's capital, Phnom Penh, on Saturday, days after she became an unlikely star at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.

Over the weekend, she returned to Morodok Techo Stadium to train and pose for photos with fans. As for what she'll do with the money from Cambodia's strongman leader, she said she wants to pay off her mother's debts.

The runner's persistence was also noted by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, who said he was proud of her for reminding everyone that sports are about more than winning and losing.

The SEA Games is a biennial competition that pits athletes from the 11 nations in the region against each other in 581 events. Its closing ceremony is set for Wednesday.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.