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At the age of three, when most kids were thinking about candy and ice cream, Hem Thonvitiny was thinking about a future in the pool. She said that she decided to be a swimmer while on a trip to the swimming pool at Olympic Stadium. She started to swim on a regular basis and by the age of 10, she was already recognised as one of Cambodia’s most promising young swimmers. Today, as a 12th grader at Bak Touk High School, and after thousands of practice sessions at the pool at Olympic Stadium, she is a member of the national swimming team and regularly represents the Kingdom in international competitions.
Hem Thonvitiny is not the first member of her family to shine in the pool; her grandfather, aunt and uncle were all standout swimmers on the Kingdom’s national team, and her uncle has been her coach since she first jumped in the pool. In 2005, she successfully competed for the opportunity to represent Cambodia in the youth under-18 games in Thailand, but was unsuccessful in placing in any of her races..
While she admits that she wasn’t fully prepared to be in medal contention at international competitions, her experience in these early contests prepared her for a future where she would make multiple trips to international events every year. She said that her losses early on did not frustrate her, but rather inspired her to work harder, and she has been a national champion swimmer every year since 2006.
In 2006 her competitive swimming career took off as she represented Cambodia in the indoor games in Thailand, the Asian Games in Saudi Arabia and the World Swimming Championships in Japan. In 2007 she headed to the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand, and in 2008 she was selected as one of four athletes who went to Beijing, China to represent Cambodia in the Olympic games. Last year she took part in the Under-18 games in Singapore, World Swimming Championships in Italy and the SEA games in Laos.
Although she has never won a medal in any of these competitions, Hem Thonvitiny says that her performances have been constantly improving. “Honestly speaking, I love swimming more than studying,” she said. “So I always concentrate on my training.”
Her uncle, Hem Lamphat, who has been by her side throughout her entire career, said that his niece had been an incredibly hard-working athlete who only missed a practice session if there was an event or occasion that she absolutely could not miss. “She is the most promising athlete I have worked with,” he said. And he is not just saying that because she is his niece; her time of 30 seconds in the 50 metres is the best in the country among women. But, with the current SEA Games record for the 50m standing at just over 26 seconds, Hem Thonvitiny still has plenty of room left to improve.