Cambodia sent the biggest ever contingent, 285 members strong, to the SEA Games since its inception in 1959 and returned with an all-time best medal count of eight golds, 11 silver and 28 bronze medals as the curtain came down at a spectacular closing ceremony of the 27th edition in Myanmar’s capital Naypidaw yesterday.
The Kingdom’s wrestlers led the gold hunt by scooping four from the mat in the first week and vovinam warriors added two to the tally in the final days of the competition. The bullion haul was boosted by one each from petanque and taekwondo to help Cambodia double its four-gold intake from the 2011 Games in Indonesia.
While Cambodia held on to 11 silver medals won two years ago, the country saw the bronze total go up by four this time to 28, pushing the overall medals tally to 47 compared to the previous best of 39.
“Wrestling traditions go back hundreds of years in Cambodia. Somehow we were unable to make much headway all these years. I think our wrestlers showed what they are really capable of and finally delivered the gold medals that have been eluding us,” said National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Secretary General Vath Chamroeun, himself a reputed wrestler who had represented the Kingdom at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“With a little bit of luck on our side we could have won at least another gold, but I am happy with the result.
“I feel that our preparation this time was the key. Our wrestlers had never trained harder and I think the two sessions the wrestlers had under Stephen Kazarian a few months before this event helped them a lot.
“We set out with 10 golds in mind, though our prime target was to double the gold medals we won in Indonesia. I am proud that we met that expectation.”
Cambodian Wrestling Federation general secretary and national team coach Thin Vichet said: “Our results show that we have clearly improved a lot as a team compared to the previous Games. We had the services of two skillful Korean coaches thanks to the NOCC and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. My special thanks to our benefactor Casey Barnett, who has been very helpful.
“The future looks bright for wrestling. Some medalists here may soon retire, so we need to find young replacements. Our focus will be on the ensuing Asian Games in Incheon,’ he added.
“There were a couple of narrow misses, like that of Sorn Davin in taekwondo, but for which we possibly would have won a few more. But if you consider an overall view we had never done better than this.”
Cambodia’s growing influence on vovinam, a Vietnamese martial art, was well borne out by the 10 medals that the country managed to grab. The two gold medals came in mixed team events, one in the category of self defence for a woman against male attackers and the other in the more complex version with a weapon.
Ly Boramy, who had caused a flutter in Indonesia two years ago with a gold and team silver, was again at his fiery best as he went down gamely to Ngu Mon Quyen of Vietnam in the Five Gates form final on Saturday. With that individual silver medal behind him, Ly Boramy went on to inspire Prak Sovanny, San Socheat and Pal Chhorraksmy to team gold in the self defence weapon section.
The second vovinam gold had been the result of a splendid co-ordination between Chin Piseth, Kat Sopheak, Soeng Visal and Soeur Chanleakhena in the mixed Da Luyen Tar Khong Nu on Thursday.
Fighting in the women’s 67-73kg class on Saturday, Sorn Sivmey landed a taekwondo gold even as her more illustrious sister Sorn
Davin had to settle for the silver medal after seemingly well in control of her over-73kg final against Kirstie Elaine Alora of the Philippines. There were a few critical decisions which rather dubiously went against the Cambodian star.
In the men’s 80-87kg class title decider, Mao Sophal held his own in the initial stages before being overpowered by Vietnam’s Trong Cuong Nguyen to settle for a silver.
Ke Leng restored a modicum of Cambodia’s petanque pride last Tuesday when she landed the women’s shooting gold. That was the only top-notch performance, though the Kingdom ultimately took home four silver and three bronze medals from the boules alley.
It was the Cambodian wrestlers who gave the country a flying start with Dorn Sov setting the medals trend. He was outpinned in the men’s Greco Roman under-120kg final on December 9, but undeterred, he went on to win a gold four days later in the men’s 120kg freestyle.
A gold medal winner at the 2009 Games in Laos, Chov Sotheara could not compete at her preferred weight class in Indonesia, but this time around the plucky grappler would not be denied her due. She won the under-44kg freestyle gold in taking style.
Kov Chheang Hong proved too strong in the men’s Greco Roman 84kg class while Ni Samnang showed her mettle in the women’s 63kg freestyle.
There is a bounty awaiting the eight gold-medalists to the tune of US$24,000 each, if all the offers and bonuses on the table are put together. An individual gold medalist will receive 40 million riel ($10,058) as part of the government’s sub-decree to reward international sporting success. Apart from this, Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised $3,000, NagaWorld under their Go For Gold program will add $3,000 and Angkor Beer will chip in $6,000.
With Naga only endorsing golds, the drop in cash for silver medalists is substantial at $13,500, while bronze medals are expected to earn $7,000. Team medals are also set for a big increase in prize fund, while coaches will get the same.
Wrestler Dorn Sov will have the distinction of getting the highest bounty among medalists at $37,500 for his individual gold-silver combination.
Team disciplines disappointing
While individual brilliance kept Cambodia’s medal chase going, national teams in various disciplines put up a doleful show yet again. After a modest showing in the BIDC Cup, the Cambodian football team went through another humiliating Games experience with several off-field infractions only adding to the misery.
With seven overseas imports, the Cambodian Basketball team sported a stronger look this time. But it simply did not translate into good results. There were some individual performances worthy of note but as a team, Cambodia distinctly lacked the punch to trouble some of the big names.
Overall, the team finished sixth, a marginal improvement from its seventh place in Indonesia but still a long way behind in the medal race.
Cambodian boat racers failed to rise up to the expectations while badminton, volleyball, table tennis brought no cheer at all.
Chinlone presented Cambodia with a couple of surprise silver gifts solely because other than Myanmar, not many countries are familiar with the sport.
The Cambodian horse riders are counting on this experience to shape better in the future. Among the six who took part in equestrian events, only Sim Narith managed to finish as close as fifth in the first round of show jumping. The team was simply not “ready” for dressage, though they handled this difficult event with great enthusiasm and courage.
“It was a great learning experience for our riders who were on borrowed horses. We have a few more young riders in the wings and I am confident we can move forward from here,” Cambodian Equestrian Federation Secretary General Mona Tep told the Post.
Thailand reclaimed the regional sports supremacy by heading the final medals tally with 281 including 107 golds, bringing down Indonesia from its 2011 perch.
It was a great triumph for the hosts Myanmar, who finished second behind Thailand and achieved their best tally besides scoring important points on the international stage as a country fast transitioning to democratic way of life after decades of military rule.
Despite winning four golds and four bronze medals more than in Indonesia, Cambodia’s standing in the medals table remained at ninth only ahead of East Timor and Brunei, which clearly shows that the Kingdom has a lot of catching up to do as it prepares to host the biennial Games for the first time in 2023.
So far Cambodia is the only founder member not to have staged the Games since its creation in 1959 after the 1963 edition slated for Phnom Penh had to be abandoned due to a volatile political situation at the time.