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Racing against her personal best

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Photograph: Joseph Pocs/Phnom Penh Post

At 6:30am Chan Seiha is already at the Olympic stadium and stretching out before her morning training session.

As the bright morning light illuminates the fluttering national flags above the stands and the air heats up, Cambodia’s 18-year-old Olympic hopeful begins her long warm up, then under the watchful eye of her coach, Seiha runs length after length down the back straight of the gravelled 800m track.

She prepares each muscle in turn as she performs her exercises; first a bounding stride as she springs off the ball of each foot; then a skipping step, bringing each knee up to her chest and; lastly an odd looking manoeuvre, where she slides her feet along the floor with her legs locked straight.

Wearing black leggings, a white T-shirt, a baseball cap and with her shoulder-length hair in plaited pig-tails, Seiha is cool, calm and collected.

The London Olympics, where she will compete in the 200m sprint, will be the biggest competition of her career and Seiha is under no illusions about the importance of the event to her and to Cambodia.

“This is the big one,” she says, “When I arrive, it will be amazing. I am surprised, happy and proud to represent my country.”

Seiha clocked her personal best of 26.30 seconds at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea last year and hopes to smash her record in London. “It is my first time at the Olympics and to win a medal would be my ultimate ambition, but to beat my personal best is my real goal.”

Originally from a village in Kandal province, Seiha says that her parents were initially unsupportive of her athletic ambitions, believing that she should pursue a more traditional career path. However, when they saw the commitment and effort she put into her training, they came around and now fully support her choice.

Seiha is looking to securing her future though, and straight after her training session she attends college where she is studying to become a qualified athletics coach. She would like to help younger generations of Cambodians to compete, and dreams of seeing Cambodia becoming a sporting country.

Usain Bolt is Sheiha’s sporting hero. The Jamaican 100m and 200m world record holder and three times gold medal winner at the Beijing Games is an international icon and a symbol of sporting excellence, she says. After the Olympics, it’s likely that Chan Seiha will be a household name here too.

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