Cambodian runner Bou Samnang has gone viral, capturing the hearts of those who applauded her determination in finishing the 5,000-meter race at the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games despite heavy rain.
Already in last place, Samnang, 20, kept running through exhaustion despite a torrential downpour in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on May 9. The athlete had already made the decision to push through with competing a few weeks prior despite being told by a doctor to stop running for a while due to her chronic anemia.
However, Samnang was eager to run at the SEA Games, which marked her first international competition. Although she fell far behind her competitors, she continued running the race as it started raining heavily.
“It was important for me to finish the race because of the crowd support that I had and also that I was representing Cambodia. I couldn’t just stop the race even though I had the right to,” Samnang told Olympics.com.
In videos widely circulating on social media, Samnang can be seen soaked in rain as water flooded onto the track.
“I was disappointed knowing that I was the last one and that people had finished before me, but what kept me going was the support. Not only were there national fans, there were international fans cheering me on,” the 20-year-old said.
In the video, as Samnang crosses the finish line, she acknowledges her fans and starts to cry before raising the Cambodian flag. The athlete finished in 22 minutes and 54 seconds, which was nearly six minutes behind the winner, Nguyen Thi Oanh of Vietnam.
Samnang’s perseverance would eventually make her a star.
“I can say now I’m famous,” she said at the Morodok Techo Stadium, where fans lined up to snap a photo with her. “Although I lost, they support me from the bottom of their hearts.”
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen also praised Samnang and rewarded her $10,000 “to encourage perseverance.” The 20-year-old said she would use the money to help her family and fund her own education.
Samnang, who graduated high school last year, plans to study law next year alongside her athletics career.
“Those two things are very, very important to me – one is for my future and one is for the country,” she told the Olympics.
While Samnang acknowledged how difficult it may be to balance both, she noted the importance of determination.
“I’ve learned to never give up, to keep pushing, to keep persevering, to have patience. Even if you walk slow, even if you go slow, the important thing is that you finish,” she said.