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Medal winners say show me the money

Medal winners say show me the money

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Tracey Shelon

Petanque players—Duch Sophorn (left), Hou Hoeun (below) practicing boules on top of their daily work. Meas Sarin (Olympic committee) serves as a referee. Players are feeling let down by lack of support.

Last month, Cambodia returned victoriously from the SEA games in Thailand with fistfuls

of medals-18 in all-including two gold, three silver and two bronze in the traditional

French sport of petanque.

But for the athletes who hurled a heavy metal "boule" down a 15-meter playing

field in front of the crowds, the medals could be the only recognition coming.

Silver medal winner Duch Sophorn told the Post that the players are still waiting

to receive their allotted reward money, which ranges from $250 to $125 for the medal

winners.

"Of course I'm disappointed," she said. "We all tried our best-many

won medals-but when we came back it was so quiet."

The 31-year-old petanque player blamed the lack of attention partly on the failure

of local TV stations to air the petanque games, which can be slow going. Petanque

is similar to bocce, except its origins are French and the boule is hurled down field

towards a wooden "cochonnet."

"Still I struggle to train and improve because I love the sport and love competing.

That's why I keep trying. I want to win for my country and for myself."

For many of the Cambodian athletes who participated in the SEAGames in December,

the going was often tough.

Although most of the 26 Cambodian sports federations that competed in the games receive

some level of government support it is meager and some teams-like the body builders-receive

nothing.

Sok Sopheak said he works full-time as a fitness trainer at the Cambodiana Hotel

and after work, he trains four hours per day, six days a week. To attend the SEA

Games he and two other body-building competitors traveled by bus to Thailand, courtesy

of contributions from the hotel as well as Sopheak's clients and bodybuilding enthusiast

Douglas Latchford (See Q & A Bodybuilders opposite page).

"I learnt from watching other people," said Sopheak. "If I saw someone

training that had nice legs, I would follow what he does to work on my legs. If he

had good arms, I would follow what he does to build up my arms. Now I know how to

work on every muscle."

But he said that just getting a training diet is tough. "We only have rice for

protein. Other Asian athletes have a good diet plan and supplements so it is hard

to compete because we can not afford them."

Em Heang, the petanque coach, said while training for international competitions

the players get a monthly allowance of $30 plus a daily food allowance of $3.75.

One of the players is Hou Hoeun, at 59, the oldest on the team. He drives a moto

for a living and practices in the evening. He has represented Cambodia three times

in the SEA games, winning one silver and one bronze.

Although official prize money is normally awarded by the Cambodian government to

medal winners, a month after the end of the games, as of press time, no prize money

had been awarded. "When we compete we try our best. I want the government officials

to pay more attention and congratulate us, but so far we have received nothing,"

said Sophorn. The Cambodian government spent $450,000 on SEA game athletes last year.

Attending the games were 318 Cambodian athletes, coaches and support staff representing

26 sports.

Medal winners included Petanque: 2 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze. Taekwondo: 1 silver,

2 bronze; wrestling: 3 bronze. The athletics team won 1 silver, 1 bronze. Tennis,

Boxing and Beach Volleyball, 1 bronze each.

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