Mixed Reactions to Japanese Comedian Running for Cambodia in London Marathon: “He’s Disrespecting Other Athletes” vs. “He’s a Bridge Between Nations”

Hiroshi Neko Cambodian Marathoner
Mr. Hiroshi Neko poses happily after accepting a place in the Olympic marathon as a representative of Cambodia. His ribbon wishes him “congratulations.” March 26, Sumida-ku, Tokyo.

Mixed Reactions to Japanese Comedian Running for Cambodia in London Marathon: “He’s Disrespecting Other Athletes” vs. “He’s a Bridge Between Nations”
Yomiuri Shimbun: 猫さん五輪に賛否…「選手に失礼」「懸け橋に」
March 31, 2012

Mr. Hiroshi Neko (the alias of Kuniaki Takizaki), a 34-year old comedian who took Cambodian citizenship to complete for a spot in the marathon at the London Olympics, has been chosen as a member of the Cambodian team.

This has ignited controversy, with some saying he has shown great disrespect to Cambodian athletes in going as far as changing his citizenship to make the team and others saying he is a bridge between nations. Can he handle the burden of a nation’s hopes and dreams during the race itself?

“My goal is to break the world record in London.” Speaking at a press conference in Sumida-ku, Tokyo on March 26 in which he accepted a place on the Cambodian national team, Mr. Neko was so nervous that his hands shook. He usually dons a red T-shirt reading “Cat Demon” (Neko Oni) , but that day he wore a suit and tie.

He acknowledged criticism of his change of nationality, saying “I know some people have strict views about this. I’ve decided to go through with it, though, and I’m going to pursue victory all the way to the end.”

Eye-catching online criticism of Mr. Neko includes “for a comedian to play a joke on everyone by running in the Olympics is a dishonor to all the athletes who are honestly competing in the event” and “Isn’t he just trying to get attention?”

Former Olympic silver medalist Yūko Arimori (45), who plans charity marathons in Cambodia to deepen exchange with the country, tearfully said to the Yomiuri Shimbun that “it pains me to think of the young man whose spot on the team was taken by a Japanese person.” Indeed, it was Ms. Arimori who invited Neko’s primary competitor for that spot, Hem Bunting (26), to Japanese invitationals. “Cambodian runners have to build their strength inside a poor training environment. I’d prefer that someone who’s actually from there run for them.”

Japan Track and Field Association Director (and former marathoner) Toshihiko Seko (55), however, is looking forward to Mr. Neko’s performance: “My compliments go to him for winning his spot on the basis of his abilities. I would like to see him become a bridge between these two nations.”







(2012年3月31日14時33分 読売新聞)

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