Armenian wrestler Stephen Kazarian, a veteran coach who has attended no fewer than 10 Olympic Games and 60 World Championships in a grand tour involving 85 countries, is a legend when it comes to the sport.
Kazarian is in Phnom Penh to reunite with Cambodian wrestling after 40 years, having left the Kingdom just weeks before the civil war took its toll on the capital.
“I was in Cambodia from June 10, 1968 to June 10, 1970 as the head coach of the national team,” said Kazarian at the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia offices yesterday. “I had to leave because my mother was terribly sick. I heard after a couple of weeks about the civil war, [then] about the Khmer Rouge and the thousands of deaths that followed and I felt very, very sad.”
“[Tuesday] I saw the place where I used to live. Everything has changed beyond recognition. I still remember some Khmer words; mouy, pi, bei [one, two, three]. A few bad words as well,” he added with a chuckle.
Kazarian, now in his mid 70s, is the current secretary general of the Technical Department of the Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées, wrestling’s governing body, and holds an honorary doctorate for his contribution to the sport from a French university. His 10-day official visit will see him take charge of an Olympic Solidarity Coaches Clinic for local wrestling enthusiasts, passing on his expertise to budding young talents and sharing his wealth of experience with the wrestling community here. “Not all countries get a chance to hold these clinics. They are special, and I am glad that Cambodia is one of the countries chosen for this initiative,” Kazarian said.
“There is enormous talent among Cambodian juniors. They are very good wrestling material. [Cambodia has a] long history and tradition in wrestling. It is unfortunate that their progress was stunted in those dark years. But I feel the future is very bright.
“I have great affinity with the people of Cambodia,” said a visibly emotional Kazarian. “When I am here, I feel as if I am in my room, my own home.”
Pra Ka Dul, one of Kazarian’s batch of trainees in 1968, made a surprise appearance at the inauguration of the clinic, giving his former master a hearty embrace as they shared memories of four decades ago. “He had a flock of thick black hair those days, was very handsome and ... highly talented, 73kg class,” recalled Kazarian.
Addressing an attentive audience of coaches numbering more than 20, including two women, Kazarian said: “[If] you know nothing, your trainee gets nothing. Teachers and academics are different from coaches. A student easily forgets his physical training teacher or his maths teacher, but not his wrestling coach. A coach is like a sculptor or a poet.
“A sculptor shapes an image, a poet writes a piece of poetry on the paper and a coach makes a champion out of a normal boy. Two minutes is what it takes to fight, but a lifetime is what it takes to perfect the art.”
The Man of Marvel from Yeravan now lives in Greece with his family, and his itinerary for the next few weeks takes him to Hungary, Finland, Singapore and Japan, where he is conducting a clinic for women coaches.
The coaches clinic is being organised by the NOCC and Secretary General Vath Chamroeun, himself a wrestler in his youth, is one of the many beneficiaries of Kazarian’s expertise ever since he came in contact with the Armenian ace in the summer of 1997 in Jakarta.