Cambodia’s Hem Thon Vitiny (lane 6, third from bottom) leads the race during Heat 3 of the women’s 50-metre freestyle competition at the Aquatics Centre of Olympic Park in London. Photograph: Dan Riley/Phnom Penh Post
It was smiles all round the poolside of the Aquatics Centre at Olympic Park on Friday morning as Hem Thon Vitiny rounded off a fine Cambodian swimming campaign in London.
The 18-year-old confirmed her status as the fastest female in the Kingdom with an inspirational race in Heat 3 of the women’s 50-metre freestyle competition that slashed just over a second off her personal best, more than quadruple the margin her uncle Hem Thon Ponleu cut from his own record the day before.
Vitiny set a time of 30.44 seconds, while 22-year-old Ponleu touched home in 27.03 seconds in the men’s event. Both failed to make the top 16 required to progress to the semifinals, although they will return home satisfied that all their hard work in training and preparation had been used to full effect.
Vitiny led her heat throughout the early stages but was pipped at the finish line by Karin O’Reilly Clashing of Antigua & Barbuda. Ponleu was grouped in a much tougher Heat 3 of the men’s competition, coming last out of eight swimmers.
“I feel sad that I came second in the race, but it’s OK as I set a new Cambodian record,” Vitiny told the Post.
Ponleu, meanwhile, thought he could get a better time with more effort. “I was a bit distracted with studies during my preparations for the Olympics. My race finishing needs work but I will try hard to make it to Rio [in 2016]. I really want to go,” he said.
Both swimmers noted that the superb conditions at the Aquatics Centre, with its top quality pool and diving board, as well as great food at the Olympic Village and a decent period in London to prepare had helped them achieve their goals.
Their new Speedo swimsuits, which took Vitiny a full half-an-hour to squeeze into hers, were also put to good use.
Coach Hem Kiry, Ponleu’s older brother and Cambodian men’s 50-metre record holder of 26.48, agreed it was “mission accomplished” as he celebrated an “incredible and fantastic” set of results.
“I am really proud of what we have done for our nation. We saw a lot of people supporting us on Facebook and other websites. This generation is a very exciting time for Cambodian swimming.”
The coach declared the next step was to look for a medal at the SEA Games. “I’m pretty sure we can do it,” he added.
“Vitiny spent year after year training to take off that one second [on her personal best]. If she can get under 30 seconds, she can make the final at the SEA Games.”
Cambodian national team trials are scheduled for the build up to the 2013 SEA Games, which will be held in Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay at the end of next year.
Outside of the Kingdom’s most prolific swimming family, the Hem Thons, there are a few promising upcoming talents including 16-year-old Maximov Chamraen Youri.
“We’d like to have another swimming pool [in addition to Olympic Stadium] and our own weights room,” said Hem Kiry, who praised the work of the Cambodian Swimming Federation and its president, Sun Chan Thol.
The only Laotian swimmer at the London Games, 15-year-old Phathana Inthavong, was second in the three-man Heat 1 on Thursday with a time of 28.17 seconds.
On Friday, France found a new star in 21-year-old Florent Manaudou, who took the men’s 50-metre title in 21.34. The next night, Dutch swimmer Ranomi Kromowidjojo broke the women’s Olympic record with a time of 24.05.
Dan Riley’s reports from the London Games are brought to you by NagaWorld, the best integrated business, leisure and entertainment hub in Indochina. Contact the reporter on this story at [email protected]