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Van Vun aiming for London

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Van Vun travels to Geelong in Australia today to undertake 10 days of training with some of the world’s best wheelchair athletes.

Cambodia’s premier wheelchair racer Van Vun has perhaps the best chance of becoming the Kingdom’s first official Olympian at the 2012 London Games

NO Cambodian athlete has ever qualified for an Olympic or Paralympic event. On the occasions when an athlete has represented the Kingdom, it has been via a wildcard entry. However, in wheelchair racer Van Vun, things may be about to change as he begins his historic quest to officially qualify for the 2012 London Paralympics.

Not that he is settling for anything less. “I expect to go to London in 2012,” he said. “I am getting very anxious.”

To help achieve Van Vun’s Olympic aspirations, he will make a trip to Australia to train among the world’s best wheelchair athletes across various disciplines. Following a formal invitation from Athletics Victoria, he will fly today to Geelong – near Australia’s south coast – for 10 days of intensive training that he believes will prove invaluable. “I may not get this chance again,” he said.

The Cambodian will receive expert advice on which distance to pursue, as well as the gift of a custom-made wheelchair suited to his specific needs.

It has been an amazing turnaround in fortunes for Van Vun. Disabled after a bout of polio when he was just 18 months old, he received his first wheelchair when he was 15 years old. Four years later he started to compete in races, and for the past three years has trained an hour a day, five days a week, paying close attention to any improvements in his performance.

Now 23, Van Vun is the top wheelchair athlete across all distances in Cambodian wheelchair racing. “I like all types of distances, but the one I like most is the 500m,” he said. “Sometimes I prefer the 10-kilometre [race] though.”

Chris Minko, general secretary of the CNVLD – the governing body for local athletes with a disability – has welcomed the invitation of Van Vun to the Wheelchair Sports Victoria Training Camp as the development of such sporting activities in the Kingdom continues to increase.

“I would say it’s another step in consolidating the sporting relationship between Cambodia and Australia,” Minko said. “What we’re hoping to foster is that in 2011, we can hold an international standard short-course wheelchair race here in Phnom Penh, with the focus of possibly getting six to eight of Australia’s elite-level athletes to compete.”

Australia has long boasted success in wheelchair racing. Names such as Louise Sauvage – a multiple gold medallist at the Paralympics – and marathon racer Kurt Fearnley are household names Down Under. Minko hopes there will be a knock-on effect from Van Vun’s training in a country renowned for its excellence in the sport. “We want to develop a similar relationship [with Australia] to the one we have with Germany in the [disabled] volleyball,” he said. “[Van] Vun brings back the expertise, and he can then share that expertise.”

Van Vun is keen to help develop more local athletic talent, knowing that excellence in athletics is only as sustainable as the body allows. “Now I have the ability, but in the future I may not,” he said. “In the future, I want to be a coach or a trainer of wheelchair racing.”

Minko revealed that Van Vun was the recipient of the CNVLD’s only high-tech racing wheelchair, a second-hand model donated by Canada two years ago.

With an eye firmly on qualification to London in 2012, Van Vun is relishing the jaunt to Australia to help realise his dream. “When I go there, I will be able to get experience from other people, as well as new experiences that I’ve never had before in Cambodia,” he said. “I’m very excited.”

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