Cambodian hopefuls, accompanied by several officials, flew out of Phnom Penh late on Monday evening heading for the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, eager like never before to end the 44-year medal drought.
The Kingdom picked up four medals at the 1970 Games in Bangkok, having won a bronze eight years earlier before the Khmer Rouge and its aftermath forced the Kingdom to abandon participation until 1994.
As Cambodia marks a milestone 60th anniversary of its first appearance in the world’s second biggest sporting spectacle after the Olympics, the country is craving for a medal of any hue.
Best wishes for a medal success in Incheon, the third South Korean city to stage the Games after Seoul and Busan, have been pouring in for the Cambodian squad right from a young and fast expanding supporters group to the country’s top leaders.
Even as Prime Minister Hun Sen, an ardent sports fan, sent out his blessings for the contingent, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An presided over an official farewell function on Monday at the Peace Building, which houses the office of the Council of Ministers.
Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron, National Olympic Committee of Cambodia President and Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun were among several high ranking officials in attendance for a “Wish the Games squad success gathering.”
The 17th edition of the Games, running from September 19 to October 4, will offer as many as 1,400 medals in 439 events across 39 disciplines including 28 Olympic sports.
Incheon won the bid to host the games in 2007 ahead of its only competitor, the 1982 venue New Delhi, the hosts of the inaugural Asiad in 1951.
There are 49 competition venues and 48 training facilities that will be used during the Games, which is estimated to cost South Korea close to US$2 billion.
Among the venues, 10 feature in six cities of Gyeonggi Province while two each are located in Chungju and Seoul. The rest of the venues are spread across eight districts and a county inside the metropolitan city of Incheon.
Ten venues were constructed for the 2014 Games, which will provide athletes, coaches, officials and media personnel drawn from 45 participating countries up to 3,300 units and 9,500 rooms.
Hem Bunting gets recall
Multiple international half marathon winner at home, Hem Bunting, who was sidelined from the national team four years ago after the Guanzhou Asiad, is back to where he belongs, triggering lively anticipation of a medal success on the track.
Bunting has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the best long distance runner that the country has seen this decade.
The axe fell on the stormy petrel of Cambodian athletics after the authorities charged Bunting with unsportsmanlike conduct at the 2010 Games, where he was out of sorts in the 10km run and failed to finish the marathon.
That discipline issue was controversially stretched in the last four years despite Bunting’s string of half marathon victories. A SEA Games silver and a bronze medalist, he was overlooked for both the 2011 event in Indonesia and the next in Myanmar last year, besides the 2012 London Olympics.
While the NOCC has made it clear that it is happy to have him back, the athlete is thrilled to the gills that he has a shot at the Asian Games again.
“I am training hard. I am confident of a good performance,” Hem Bunting told the Post. “I am really fired up after my run in the Paris Marathon where I did my career best timing.”
The 28-year-old Bunting, who skipped last month’s full marathon in Siem Reap to focus on his training, will run the 5km and the marathon just like his other team-mate Ma Viro.
Cambodia’s third athlete, Neko Hiroshi, winner of the 42km run in Siem Reap, will only take part in the marathon. While Ma Viro and Neko Hiroshi have been training in Japan for the last two weeks, Hem Bunting had to give it a miss because of a procedural issue with his travel document, which is now in order for him to make this trip.
The Cambodian swimming scene has been dominated by the legendary Hem Thon family. The third generation swimmers, Hem Ponleu and Hem Vithiny, who have more international experience than any, will carry Cambodian aspirations in the pool. Hem Lumphat will be at hand as their coach in Incheon.
The performances of Ponleu and Vithiny are nothing much to write home about but they have few equals when it comes to national competitions.
Cambodian beach volleyball players Sim Khlouk and Lim Samart will have a tough task dealing with some of the best in the business.
Coach Chum Rotha has put them through a rigorous training regimen and is anxious as to how well his two trainees will fare against classy opposition.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s judo hope has been dealt a serious blow with Cambodian French judoka Khom Ratanak Mony picking up a leg injury.
“Our target is a medal in Incheon, any medal for that matter,” said NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun.
“I think our preparations have gone on very well. We know that Asian Games medals are not easy to come by. The competition is always fierce but I expect good performances from our wrestling, taekwondo and athletics teams.”
A ninth-grade student from Phnom Penh’s CIA First International School, Tieng Kimleng, who won the writing contest last October will be among 11 other young regional reporters heading to Incheon under a program sponsored by the Olympic Council of Asia.
With an eye on the future of its member nations strengthening the Olympic movement and solidarity, the OCA will organise a summit on sports sponsorship and marketing during the Games.