It's five down and one to go as Cambodia’s last remaining athlete makes her Olympic dream a reality on Saturday.
Sorn Davin has been training hard for the past six weeks at various venues across London ahead of her participation in the women’s over-67kg taekwondo competition at the South Arena 1 of London’s ExCel Centre.
The 20-year-old from Phnom Penh has been drawn against reigning Olympic champion, current world number two and second-seeded Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico in the 12:30pm bout of Saturday’s preliminary round session.
However, should Sorn Davin lose in her opening contest, she may have another chance to fight via the repechages – under draw – which will be available only if the Mexican makes it to the gold medal match.
The repechages round – scheduled for 8:30pm the same night – would pit the Cambodian against the opponent who lost to Espinoza in the quarterfinal, with the winner needing one more victory to claim a bronze medal.
Any win over any competitor would be a ground-breaking result for Cambodia, which has not recorded a single victory in any event in its entire Olympic history.
“I want to be the first Cambodian to win [at the Olympics],” Davin told the Post after a training session on Tuesday at the ExCel Centre. “I’ll be a bit nervous before the tournament, but as soon as I start to fight, I’ll be fine.”
Sorn Davin is Cambodia’s most decorated athlete competing at the London Games, having won a silver medal at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia and a bronze at the 2009 SEA Games in Laos.
She also finished fourth at the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Bangkok last November and fifth at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
“Her experience is very good. She has been to many international competitions,” said her South Korean coach Choi Yong-sok.
The Seoul-born taekwondo master, a 35-year veteran of the sport who accepted an invitation from the Minister of Youth, Education and Sport to instruct the national team back in 1996, has been training Davin for the past seven years.
“She’s the best Cambodia taekwondo athlete I’ve seen. But at the Olympic Games, all players are the best of the best.”
The taekwondo tournament in London sees a total of 128 athletes from 63 National Olympic Committees compete over eight weight categories – four women’s and four men’s – and welcomes a few changes since the 2008 Beijing Games.
“As a martial art, of course taekwondo is full of tradition, but we are not afraid to innovate,” World Taekwondo Federation Secretary-General Jean-Marie Ayer told reporters at a media conference on Monday ahead of yesterday’s start to the events at the ExCel Centre.
In order to make the “action on the field of play more exciting”, organisers have reduced the size of the competition area by two metres on each side to 8 metres by 8 metres and have introduced a 10-second rule, which penalises passive players who try to avoid combat.
An electronic scoring system known as PSS (Protector and Scoring System) that registers valid kicks to the body will be deployed for the first time at a Games, as will an instant video replay “to ensure the correction of possible judging errors at the request of the coach”.
Successful kicks receive one point for a body hit, two points for a spinning body shot, three points for a strike to the head and four points for a spinning move to the head, which must be made with one continuous twisting motion of 180 degrees or more.
“Our sport is now easier for the referees to judge, easier for the public to understand, and more attractive for the media and TV,” added WTF technical delegate Philippe Bouedo.
As the founding nation of taekwondo, South Korea has a long tradition of supremacy to defend at the London Games having won the maximum four golds in Beijing. However, rivals from Turkey, China, Mexico, Iran and the US are expected to challenge for medals in the four days of competition.
Although Sorn Davin has now fully acclimatised to life in the cooler climes of England, she won’t be making plans to emigrate anytime soon. “Cambodia is better,” she said with a smile.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at firstname.lastname@example.org reporting from London