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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Going for gold ... or bronze

Going for gold ... or bronze

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PG03-Story-1.jpg

With no real hopes of winning any medals, the Kingdom's athletes are happy just to represent their country at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

RICK VALENZUELA

Cambodia’s Olympic hopefuls at Phnom Penh International Airport before their flight to Beijing on Wednesday.

DESPITE having no hope of upstaging powerhouse nations like China and the United States at the Beijing Olympics, Cambodia's young contenders set off with a spring in their step on Wednesday, eager to show the world what the Kingdom can achieve.

"I'm very proud as is it my first time to compete at the Olympic Games," said freestyle swimmer Hem Thon Vitiny.

"I've trained in swimming since I was 5 years old," the 16-year-old, who has reached the finals in international competitions such as the SEA Games, told the Post before the team boarded their flight to China where the games are to start today and close August 24.

Cambodia is one of the world's sporting minnows and for a myriad of reasons - political, geographical, financial - native athletic prowess has never really matured.

While host-nation China plans to wipe the board and will not be happy unless it beats the USA in its gold medal tally, Cambodia would be content with just one medal - and a bronze at that. Here, the Kingdom is not alone; more than 80 countries of the 250 competing in Beijing have never before been on the Olympic podium.

"Our country is small, but I'm proud to represent at the Olympic games," Hem Thon, secretary general of the Khmer Amateur Swimming Federation, told the Post as Cambodia's Olympic delegation arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport. "We will at least show the Cambodian flag and its culture to the international community."

Flying the flag

Hem Thon, who was among the delegation accompanying the athletes, said the Cambodian teams do not expect to earn medals during the competitions, in which they will be competing with the top amateur athletes from around the world.

"Of course I'm strong in Cambodia, but other countries are also strong," said Hem Bunting, 25, Cambodia's top marathon runner.

"After finishing the competition we will see how strong or weak we are."

Runner Sou Titlinda, 16, also left Wednesday for the Olympics. Swimmer Hem Thon Ponleu, 18, left Thursday on account of taking exams.

"I will try my best and I think at least we could come into the finals," Hem Bunting said before departing.

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