Warrant Officer Barry Martin of the UNTAC Australian contingent had a good idea a
couple months back. Why not organize a mini Olympics here in Phnom Penh to coincide
with the real games in Barcelona?
Why not indeed! Backed by an outpouring of support from both the Australian and New
Zealand contingents, and ably assisted by the Ghanians and Canadians, the games became
a reality to the delight of several thousand spectators on July 26.
The Chinese engineering battalion, which has done a bang-up job repairing the road
to Kompong Thom, took charge of grading the track at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium.
With that completed, the games were ready to go.
More than 600 off-duty UNTAC athletes-representing 18 countries-took part in the
basketball, volleyball, football, and track and field competitions.
At the end of the day it was the Ghanian team that walked away with the most medals,
much to the delight of those in the stands who were entertained regally throughout
by the Ghanian marching band.
Pity a medal wasn't given for the best dance performance by a fan as the West African
rhythmic beat kept a gaggle of spectators moving and shaking.
One of the unexpected lessons from the UNTAC games was how to gather a crowd in Phnom
Penh. Drop six parachutists out of a helicopter and people run for miles from all
over the city to see what's going on.
Competition on the field was serious and sportsmanlike. Even those who have passed
their physical peak by more than a decade gave it their all.
It's likely there were a few sore muscles on Monday morning. But don't be surprised
if none of the participants hesitate a minute before signing up for the UNTAC "mini-Winter"
games in-wait a minute-when are they Barry Martin? The fans will be there as well.
- Story and photos by Michael Hayes