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SEA Games the new focus after Olympics

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NOCC Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun says participation at the Olympics is a stepping stone for athletes towards the SEA Games. Photograph: Dan Riley/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia concludes its Olympic dream tomorrow with Sorn Davin in the women’s over-68kg taekwondo event, but sports officials are already looking ahead to their next major tournament – the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar.

“Before we left for London, I held a meeting with all the sports federations and told them to start getting ready for the SEA Games,” National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun told the Post on Wednesday in an exclusive chat.

“The SEA Games is the main target for our national team and the first step to raising the country’s image,” he added.

“Thanks to our effort and hard work we have managed to improve sport in Cambodia, but we still need many things and more support from the government because we spend a lot for elite sport.

“It’s not like normal sport. Elite sport needs strong consideration for training and to provide everything for athletes and coaches. We must focus on the athletes. Right now, our support is not enough to motivate them 100 per cent.”

The former national team wrestler, who represented the Kingdom at the 1996 Atlanta Games, noted that the pre-Games training camps held in Beijing and the period granted in England to acclimatise had been very beneficial for their athletes.

“They enjoyed better conditions than before. We also helped encourage them a lot with promotional campaigns in Phnom Penh and online including Facebook, as well as a departure ceremony,” said Vath Chamroeun.

“Our athletes’ standard is a bit lower than others, but this was all about gaining experience. They do not participate often in international competitions and a major weak point is in mental strength. I told them, your performance here [in London] is your chance to test your level of technique and games spirit as you start to focus on the SEA Games.”

Phnom Penh casino, hotel and resort NagaWorld, one of the leading sponsors of the Cambodian contingent to London, also hailed the impact the Games had on the athletes and delegates.

“To us, this is a starting point for Cambodian sports. We need to start somewhere,” said Rajesh Kumar, vice president of Events, Promotion and Entertainment at NagaWorld.

“Obviously, we are quite sure that our athletes have received some form of exposure by competing at the Games and with fellow athletes from around the world.

“Despite our athletes not making it to the next rounds of their respective disciplines, we at NagaWorld are indeed still very proud of the team. The fact that some of our athletes have bettered their personal best records, speaks volumes.

“When an athlete competes against the world’s best, he or she is determined to push his or herself to the limits and this is the type of spirit that we are looking forward to. There are no boundaries to pushing oneself. In order to achieve this, our athletes need more international exposure, participate more in regional international events and we also need to look at developing the sport from a grassroots level,” he said.

“Hopefully we can sit down with the NOCC team once they are back from the London Games to map out the development plans for Cambodian sports, but we would also like to encourage more corporate bodies and sponsors to come on board with us to help elevate Cambodian sports to the next level,” he added.

Vath Chamroeun revealed the NOCC’s plan for the SEA Games was to focus on training and send as many athletes as possible to train abroad.

“Our sports facilities and quality of coaching are not good enough to help us challenge the other countries,” he said. “We have strong relationships with China and South Korea, so they are ready to help us. We will concentrate on sports we have won medals in already, such as wrestling, taekwondo, judo, tennis, vovinam and boxing.

“We will also look at some sports which have new talents that can help us reach our target of more than 10 gold medals. In previous Games, we got eight golds, so we’ve decided to set a minimum of 10 for the upcoming tournament. We will not be sending a lot of athletes. We have to look at quality, not quantity.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at dan.riley@phnompenhpost.com reporting from London

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