After clinching a historic victory this weekend in South Korea, teenage taekwondo sensation Sorn Seavmey may be in for an unusual perk: a free pass on the grade 12 national exam.
The 19-year-old, who brought home gold from the Asian Games, ending Cambodia’s 44-year-medal drought, was less fortunate going up against the high- stakes test in August; she was among the 74 per cent of grade 12 students who flunked.
But unlike the rest of her classmates, Seavmey might not have to sit the second round of the gruelling exam next week in order to make another attempt for her diploma. The Ministry of Education is considering granting automatic passes to six student athletes from the Games, including Seavmey.
“This is the first time in 44 years that Cambodia has taken home a medal from the Asian Games. It is a huge honour for Cambodia, one we want to reward,” Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron said. “We want to encourage young Cambodians to train; if we have no policy to promote sports, then we will force youth to choose a different career rather than pursuing athletic talents.”
But the academic prestige that could soon be conferred on the athletes is far from their only reward. Seavmey, who was scheduled to arrive home from South Korea last night, was expected to be showered with gifts and cash at a celebration feted by the prime minister.
Teachers yesterday also commended the high-schooler’s victory, but added that her prizes should not extend to the classroom, where honours are merited through academic, rather than physical, rigour.
“If she is good at sports, then they should give her a certificate of sport,” said Chi Heak, a grade 12 teacher at the Wat Phnom High School in the capital. “The ministry should not let [athletes] pass the national exam automatically.… She must join the second exam like the other students who failed on their first try.”
But with a regimen that starts at 5am and takes a chunk of hours out of each day – and also includes travel outside the country – Seavmey and her fellow national student athletes are given little time to hit the books or take one of the government-sponsored refresher courses.
“Not many student athletes are able to finish high school,” National Olympic Committee of Cambodia secretary-general Vath Chamroeun said. “It takes intensive training to compete at this level. One to two months before a game, there’s absolutely no time for anything else, and trying to take something more on could lead to injury.”
Chamroeun suggested that rather than automatic passes, national athletes should receive concessions, like extra exam points or tutoring so that dropping out of school isn’t the only way to compete.
“Sportswomen and sportsmen should be encouraged to have a strong brain too,” he said.
For her part, the martial arts champ took her victory and its many prizes in humble stride.
“I would ordinarily like to pass the exams myself by my own effort. However, if this is the reward for my hard work [for the Asian Games], I will accept it,” Seavmey told the Post while travelling back from Incheon on Sunday.
WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAN RILEY AND PECH SOTHEARY