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Disabled athletes gear up for Asian champs

Disabled athletes gear up for Asian champs

RUNNING FOR GOLD

Cambodia's national disabled athletes get in some practise.

Despite a serious shortage of money, no potential sponsors and run-down training

facilities, 42 Cambodian disabled athletes are determined to do well at the Far East

and South Pacific games in Bangkok in January.

Christopher Min Ko, co-Director of the National Para-lympic Committee of Cambodia

(NPCC) said it is the first time that Cambodian disabled athletes will be taking

part in the international event.

Forty-four countries will be there at what is being seen as a stepping stone to the

Paralympics to be held in Sydney, Australia in the year 2000.

Despite their lack of experience, the athletes too are hopeful of success.

Marksman Um Sopheap, 39, said he wanted to win though his training for the Bangkok

games is very short. "I have only got regular training in the past two months."

Sopheap works for a rehabilitation center and has to arrange his training around

his working hours.

"On weekdays I train in the afternoon from 4 - 5 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday

I train from 8 - 11 am," he said.

Sopheap lost his left leg to a mine in 1986 in Banteay Meanchey province. "I

had difficulty balancing because I was not familiar with standing on the artificial

leg, but after about three months I got used to it."

He is proud of his achievements and smiles when he says he beat several dozen competitors

at last year's disabled sports day to become the national shooting champion.

His teammate Siek Leng, 36 said she has trained every day for three months. Twice

a week she got some extra help with a foreign trainer.

Siek Leng wants to do well but realizes it will be hard. "I will try my best

to win, but if not, at least it would be a chance for me to get more experience."

Sitting on her wheelchair, Choeun Phou, 36, a contender for the wheelchair 1500 meters

marathon, said she is looking forward to the competition. She speaks determinedly

and has only a few minutes to spare for an interview. She'd much rather be practicing.

Phou said she was handicapped in both legs by polio when she was three years old.

BULLSEYE

Siek Leng takes aim with a competition pistol.

She also participated in the disabled people's sport championships held here in March

last year.

Using her robust arms to wheel her chair, Phou said she regularly practices for two

hours on Saturday and Sunday. "I will try my best in the competition for victory."

Standing on his artificial left leg, Touch Phea, 26, a disabled marathoner, said

he has trained for this event for the past year.

Phea lost his left leg to a land mine in 1989 in Battambang, and until now he has

not had a job to do. He's lately joined the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization

(CDPO).

"Although I have never attended an international event, I will try my best to

win."

Cambodia will compete in amputee athletics, shooting, amputee table-tennis, volleyball,

wheelchair basketball, swimming, and wheelchair athletics (marathon).

January's competition is the culmination of efforts on the part of several NGOs and

local disabled people to get Cambodian disabled athletes onto the world stage.

Cambodia was officially accepted as full member of the International Paralympic Committee

(IPC) in November last year. NPCC has been working closely with the CDPO to send

athletes to Bangkok.

CDPO executive director Son Song Hak said that the participation in international

competition has grown out of a local sports day for disabled athletes.

"The Cambodian disabled people's sports day was created in 1993 by several NGOs

in Phnom Penh. It was only an opportunity for disabled people to participate in sports,

not the big match to select national teams or champions as it is now."

However he is concerned that the CDPO does not have enough money. "We are suffering

financially, even though we have just received $28,000 from AusAID. This only helped

us renovate part of our premises in the stadium."

What's needed now is nearly $19,000 to get the team to Bangkok.

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