Cambodia’s 44-year long wait for Asian Games glory was emphatically ended this afternoon as taekwondo sensation Sorn Seavmey struck gold in the women’s under-73kg event at the Ganghwa Dolmens Gymnasium in Incheon, South Korea.
The 19-year-old Cambodian, a SEA Games gold medalist in Myanmar last year, stormed back from a three-point deficit in the first round to command the next two and emerge a 7-4 victor of the final against Fatemeh Rouhani of Iran.
Seavmey will return home on Sunday night with the glorious glow of a gold medal, Cambodia’s first in its 60-year history of participation at the quadrennial competition, hanging around her neck.
She can also expect to cash in on the government’s subdecree, which rewards athletes for success at international sporting competitions.
According to the subdecree, a gold medalist will receive 80 million riel (US$19,600) from the government. Seavmey is also set to bank additional sums from official sponsors such as Angkor Beer and NagaWorld.
Cambodia’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony had earlier showed scant regard for her quarter-final rival Umida Abullaeva of Uzbekistan’s imposing record as the 2012 Asian Championships winner and recent silver medalist at the Nanjing Youth Summer Olympic, in a fight she dominated start to finish to seal on points 29-7.
With the full-throated chorus of support from the entire Cambodian contingent spurring her on, Seavmey used her impressive height to score vital points against Abullaeva, who earlier in the day had struck a confident note in her 4-0 pre-quarter final win over Feruza Yergeshova of Kazakhstan.
With a historic podium place guaranteed, Seavmey then faced the imposing figure of Filipina Kirstie Elaine Alora for a place in the gold medal match.
Seavmey commanded the first two rounds, jumping to a 6-1 lead. The Cambodian held on through a nervy last round to secure a 6-5 victory and avenge her older sister Davin’s loss to Alora in the gold medal match of the over-73kg women’s event at the 2013 SEA Games.
Sorn Davin was also in the hunt for a medal in Incheon earlier today, but succumbed to a comprehensive 8-1 points defeat by Iranian Akram Khodabandeh in their women’s over-73kg quarter-final.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s remaining male taekwondo athlete, Ban Khemara, lost 20-8 to Afghanistan’s Abdul Wahab Zazai in their men’s under-54kg round of 32 clash.
Cambodia’s last medal winning performances came at the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games when the Kingdom brought home four medals – two silvers and as many bronzes.
Cambodia was forced to stay out of the Asian Games between 1970 and 1994, a time period that encompassed years of civil war and the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“This is an incredibly big prize for Cambodian sports. It is not just that our long and frustrating wait for a medal is over, it is also the start of a new chapter in our history,” National Olympic Committee of Cambodia secretary general Vath Chamroeun told the Post.
In the men’s marathon this morning, Kuniaki Takizaki, who is popularly known in Cambodia and his native Japan as Neko Hiroshi, finished last among 14 finishers, with a time of 2:34:16, which fell just outside of his personal best time.
However, it was a case of deja vu for the Kingdom’s most successful long distance runner, Hem Bunting, who failed to finish the race, bringing back sad memories of a similar happening at the Guanzhou Games in China four years ago.
Bahrain’s Mahboob Ali Hasan Mahboob crossed the finish line in 2:12:38 to take the gold, just a second ahead of Kohei Matsumura of Japan, whose compatriot Yuki Kawauchi claimed bronze.
Not so soft
Soft tennis made its Asian Games debut in Incheon as a demonstration sport and it turned out to be a humbling experience for Cambodia both on and off the court.
While one of the country’s female players, Yi Sophany, was disqualified after a pre-competition drugs test found traces of a banned substance in her sample, Orn Sambath and his partner Ngoun Meng Chheng lost all four of their men’s doubles group matches on Thursday at the Yeorumul Tennis Center.
The Cambodian pair suffered 5-0 thrashing against South Korea’s Kyucheol Park and Sanggwon Lee in the opening tie, followed an hour later by a loss of the same margin to Japan’s Hidenori Shinohara and Koji Kobayashi.
In the third group contest, the Mongolian duo of Enkhjin Bolortuya and Damdin Altankhuyag also delivered a shut out to Sambath and Chheng. Nepalese combination of Sohan Dhauvadel and Sthapit Ujjol beat the Cambodian hopefuls 5-1 in the fourth match.
Earlier in the week, Orn Sambath, who was part of Cambodia’s tennis team that took part in the Guanzhou Games four years ago, failed to get past the preliminary stage after a record of two wins and two defeats in the singles event.
Though Sambath managed to beat Negmatullo Rajabaliev of Tajikistan and Taiwan’s Ting Chun Lin, those wins were too little too late since he had lost the first two matches in Group A to Hyeongjun Kim of South Korea and Takuya Katsura of Japan.