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Trainer Rocky Lee puts his back into his body building.​​
Trainer Rocky Lee puts his back into his body building.​​ LUIS BARRETO

Pec-flexers big day out

With the Angkor Body Building Championship just a month away, Siem Reap’s strong men are working hard in anticipation of flexing their pecs on stage.

In a true display of good sportsmanship, all 35 Siem Reap competitors train together at the same place, the ABBA gym. Filled with pumping music and sweaty brows, the gym not only sponsors the competition but is also where the event’s organiser – Rocky Lee – works as trainer.

“I’ve been interested in body building for over 10 years and always wondered why other countries had this competition but we don’t,” he says. “After attending a competition myself in Thailand, I decided it was time to start one here.”

The boys line up to show how they’ve buffed up.​​
The boys line up to show how they’ve buffed up.​​ LUIS BARRETO

The competition is now entering its third year, and Rocky notes that it has been instrumental in encouraging other young men to take up the sport. His real ambition, however, is to promote body building as a form of fitness.

“Until recently people only knew about kick boxing, but this is about fitness not fighting. It’s about health care, diet, and discipline,” he says. “I want to encourage people to look after their health.”

Rocky also admits that the competition is crucial for motivating those who are already involved in the sport, and in that sense it certainly seems he has been successful.

On any day of the week the gym is packed full of Schwarzenegger-wannabes dedicating their free time to building bulk, and 34-year-old Bun Neang is no exception.

“I used to eat and drink too much and became quite fat, so I decided I wanted to change. Now I train for four hours every day. I am fitter and healthier, and look more handsome,” he says.

Bun Neang shapes up so he doesn’t have to ship out.
Bun Neang shapes up so he doesn’t have to ship out.​​ LUIS BARRETO

In just two impressive years Neang has gone from self-confessed couch potato to winning a silver medal in last year’s 66-70 kg category, and next month he is off to compete in Ho Chi Min.

Another person keen to repeat his previous success is Iload, a 27-year-old fitness trainer who won gold in last year’s 56- 60 kg category. Unlike Neang, Iload was drawn to body building after losing too many games of American football.

“I wanted to be stronger, so I started coming to the gym. Now I love it, and love helping other people achieve their training goals,” he says.

Iload pulls his weight to build his body.​
Iload pulls his weight to build his body.​​ LUIS BARRETO

Echoing Rocky’s sentiments, Iload states, “I join the competition to encourage other people to exercise. I want to show people what you can achieve when you work hard.”

Happily, the gym’s owner Sok Sour reports that “the gym has definitely been busier in the last two years.”

He adds, “I’m so happy to see so many young people here. When they come here they learn about looking after their bodies, and understand that staying fit and healthy is cheaper than paying hospital bills.”

The ABBA gym is near the Crocodile Farm, and is open daily from 7am-8pm.

The third annual Angkor Body Building Championship will be held on September 21, at Rosanna Broadway on National Road 6, past Psar Leu.

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