Teenage taekwondo sensation Sorn Seavmey returned home from the 17th Asian Games late on Sunday as Cambodia’s first gold medallist in 60 years of participation, receiving a thunderous ovation from a throng of fans at Phnom Penh International Airport.
Within a short time of her arrival along with the rest of the Kingdom’s sports contingent, Seavmey was driven straight to the Peace Palace, where Prime Minister Hun Sen and members of his Cabinet gave the golden girl and her family members a rousing reception.
Addressing a gathering of prominent sports personalities, including national athletes, coaches, administrators and top ranking officials, the prime minister declared that Seavmey’s spectacular gold medal success in the women’s under-73kg class on Friday was a great honour she had brought to the country.
“Every Cambodian should be proud of what she has achieved and I greatly admire her for dedicating this medal to the country and its people,” Hun Sen said.
Hailing her performance in South Korea as an inspiration for generations to come, the prime minister, who has been reported to be an avid follower of Cambodian sports, said Seavmey had made the country’s painfully long wait for a coveted Asian Games medal worthwhile.
While recalling Seavmey’s career record of two gold medals and four silvers, Hun Sen urged her not to slow down but to pursue with greater vigour the 2016 Olympics qualification and a medal in Rio de Janeiro.
After his enthusiastic address, the premier rewarded Seavmey with a national award and a personal donation of $10,000, a laptop computer, an iPad and an annual payment of $1,500 to go towards her university studies.
The prime minister’s cash incentive is in addition to a $20,000 bonus that Seavmey is entitled to under a government subdecree passed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport that rewards sportsmen and women for their excellence and outstanding achievements in major international competitions.
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) partners NagaWorld and Angkor Beer are also giving cash incentives to the gold medalist. While Naga is yet to announce the exact amount, Angkor Beer declared yesterday that a $10,000 reward would be handed over to the taekwondo star.
On top of these gifts, the Post has learned that more money will flow towards Seavmey for her achievement from several private donors including government officials.
Thanking Hun Sen and the people of Cambodia for the admiration and affection showered on her, Seavmey said she could not have won the gold without the solid support from her family, the professional help from coach Choi Yung Sok and the blessings of the Cambodian people.
Seavmey shared her Asian Games experiences when she presented herself before the local and international media at the NOCC headquarters yesterday morning.
The gold medal winner said she had not thought of a medal to begin with, but once she won her quarterfinal fight she had a feeling she could do it.
“I won the gold medal because I overcame the strongest opponents in the quarterfinals and semifinals. My technique was what helped me achieve this,” Seavmey said.
NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun said the committee was over the moon that the target it had in mind before the Games had been met.
“Seavmey has shown the way – that if our athletes work hard and raise their competitive levels like she has now done, we can achieve bigger prizes in international competition,” Chamroeun told the Post.
“We have won the gold medal not by chance but after setting a target during the National Sports Forum in 2010. We continue to pursue this policy with all the vigour at our command as we set our sights on hosting the 2023 SEA Games,” he said.
Local TV channel CNC announced yesterday that it would set up the Sorn Seavmey Foundation to help collect donations for the athlete.
In a gesture that won universal praise yesterday, Seavmey said she would donate 20 per cent of the foundation’s fund to the Cambodian Red Cross and another 20 per cent to Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital.
Even as the country is going gaga over the Incheon success, sports chroniclers are rewinding history to remind the country where and how the Asian Games journey began in 1954 in Manila.
It wasn’t until 1962 that Cambodia got its first medal, a bronze, through boxer You Chin Hong, who lost a close semifinal fight in the 60kg light-weight class.
It was at the 1970 Games in Bangkok that Cambodia met with its biggest success. Boxers Khiev Soeun and Ouk Savoeun won silver medals while Phat Sam On made a splash with breaststroke bronze.
The popularity of volleyball among women in the country at the time was reflected when the national team finished third to pick up a bronze medal.
You Chin Hong, who now resides in Canada, is the only individual medalist from these times still alive today.
Cambodia’s medals dried up after the 1970 Games and the first decade of the new millennium ended on a sad note when wrestler Chov Sotheara and taekwondo fighter Sorn Davin were beaten at the quarterfinal stages in Guangzhou, China, four years ago.
Davin was not so fortunate again in Incheon, suffering a broken arm during her over-73kg quarterfinal clash with Akram Khodabandeh of Iran on Friday.
But where Davin failed, her little sister succeeded to the collective relief a country for which the Seavmey saga will remain in the collective consciousness for a long time to come – at least till another gold heist.