Cambodia’s most eagerly awaited sporting moment in the Kingdom’s Olympic history ended in tears for taekwondo star Sorn Seavmey, whose best effort in the women’s +67kg last 16 was outweighed by the experienced Reshmie Oogink of the Netherlands 7-1 at the Carioca 3 arena in Rio on Saturday.
The 21-year-old Seavmey had carried the medal aspirations of millions of her fans after she became the first Cambodian to achieve Olympic qualification.
But on the day of reckoning, her bold approach and bustling energy failed to make a dent on her Dutch rival, who used her swift footwork and impressive reach to land the telling blows that earned her a decisive win.
As a visibly distraught Seavmey left the arena after the fight, a sombre mood swept across the Cambodian camp, though there was still a glimmer of hope that she might get through via a repechage slot if Oogink was to keep winning.
To the dismay of Seavmey supporters, Oogink lost her next round in a close fought encounter against Jackie Galloway of the United States.
Arriving on the newly featured octagonal mat in her red padding, against Oogink in blue, Seavmey looked relaxed but robust in the first round.
A point the Dutch fighter earned with an offensive punch was the only thing separating the two going into round two.Oogink doubled her advantage with a similar hit in the second as Seavmey served up several hints of a fightback.
It wasn’t until the closing stages of the third round that Oogink managed to unleash her feared spinning kick, catching the Cambodian star with an offensive kick to the body for a three-pointer that boosted her attack tally to six points with one earned by way of penalty to give her a 7-1 victory. Seavmey’s only score came via a penalty.
At 73kg on the scales, Seavmey was at least 1 kilogram heavier, 2 inches taller and six years younger than her opponent, but in the end it was the Dutch practitioner’s dexterity and controlled aggression that counted.
“The points gap does not reflect the intensity of the contest. I feel that Seavmey put up a very good fight, especially in the first two rounds. But, being the vastly experienced fighter she is, Oogink handled the bout very well,” Seavmey’s coach Choi Yong Sok said.
“All of us are disappointed with the result. But we should not get disheartened. Instead we must take this as a great inspiration for the youth,” said Vath Chamroeun, the secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia.
“I am certain that with this invaluable experience of qualifying for the Olympics and performing at such a high level, Seavmey will emerge much stronger.”
Seavmey’s dismay was evident as she left the mat, with the Phnom Penh native taking a while to be consoled after the fight. But once she settled down, her first reaction was to address the nation and her legion of supporters, including the nearly 1.1 million who follow her Facebook page.
“I apologise for the loss. I am sorry. I thank all of you for your support,” she said in her post-fight remarks made in Khmer. “I did my best. Hopefully I will do better in the SEA Games and Asian Games.”
The attention surrounding Seavmey’s Olympic debut was strikingly similar to the excitement that marked her elder sister Davin’s unsuccessful quarterfinal appearance four years ago in London against Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico, who again took silver this year.
China’s towering Shuyin Zheng won gold, outscoring Espinoza 5-1 in the final. Jackie Galloway of the United States and Bianca Walkden of Great Britain took the bronze medals as beaten semifinalists.
The last of Cambodia’s six Rio competitors, Neko Hiroshi, originally of Japan, was to finally end his four-year Olympic wait after missing out on London 2012 when he was to run in the men’s marathon yesterday.
In May 2012, the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled he was not eligible to represent Cambodia in London as a period of one year had not elapsed since his gaining Cambodian nationality.