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Decorated athletes return

Cambodia won 15 medals in total at the 2009 ASEAN Para Games

ELEVEN Cambodian athletes made a triumphant return to the Kingdom on Thursday, fresh from winning 15 medals in the fifth ASEAN Para Games in Malaysia.

The event - held in Kuala Lumpur from Saturday to Wednesday - brought together disabled athletes from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as East Timor, to compete over 11 events.

Speaking to reporters Thursday during a press conference at the National Paralympic Committee of Cambodia, the committee's secretary general, Yi Veasna, praised the athletes for their accomplishments during the games, which included winning one gold, 10 silver and four bronze medals.

"These medals show that our disabled athletes are just as strong as those from other countries in ASEAN," Yi Veasna said.

He added that the results stacked up well against regional powerhouses such as Thailand and Vietnam when considering the total number of athletes Cambodia sent to the games, and how many medals they brought home.

Thailand led all participating nations with 289 medals, 157 of which were gold. Host nation Malaysia placed second with 246 medals, 94 of them gold. Vietnam had the third-highest medal count with 130, including 73 gold.

Unbelievable performance
To Rithya, director of the Centre for Education and Sport, who trained and led the Cambodian team to Malaysia, said he had little hope that his athletes would do so well after seeing the strength of competitors from other nations upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur.

"I almost can't believe that we have done as well as we did, receiving 15 medals from the competition," To Rithya said.

He added that Cambodia's medal haul might have been better had two of the athletes - in swimming and athletics - not been pulled from competition.

"They had health problems, so we had to take them out of the games," he said.

Cambodia's top athlete in the games, Chim Phan, took home five medals including gold in the 400 metres.
"I was very excited about my competition because I won a gold medal," he said.

The athletes who earned medals will also be given a little extra treasure. According to a governmental decree from 2008, issued to provide incentives to Cambodian athletes, medal winners are to receive cash prizes for each time they make the podium. This year's Para Games medal winners will pocket more than 200 million riels (over US$48,000) in total.

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