Wrestler Nguon Makara, table tennis player Oeung Srey Huor and Nhan Sokvisal take part in the Dream Program in South Korea. Photograph supplied
With the return today of the three Cambodians who took part in the Dream Program 2013 in Gangwon, South Korea, it is the first time in the history of the Kingdom that athletes have been sent to practise winter sports with the hope of eventually competing in the Winter Olympics.
In a story with echoes of the one told in the movie Cool Runnings, wrestler Nguon Makara, 16, table tennis player Oeung Srey Huor, 17, and National Olympic Committee of Cambodia’s games co-ordinator, Nhan Sokvisal, have been chosen by the Olympic Committee to participate in the South Korean initiative taking place at the Alpensia Ski Resort in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to promote winter sports in countries with no access to winter.
For 12 days, the three Cambodians – together with 163 athletes and coaches from 40 countries – took part in the winter sport academy, which included snow and ice sports such as alpine skiing, snowboarding, figure and short-track speed skating. The program also included an introduction to Korean culture as all the athletes visited Seoul and took part in the Pyeongchang Winter Trout Festival.
The young athletes had a very full schedule, with two three-hour training sessions a day, as well as some networking seminars in the evening. But to keep it fun, there was a snowshoe marathon, a visit to the Olympic site in Pyeongchang, and the trip to Seoul.
According to NOCC Games co-ordinator Sokvisol, both the young Cambodian athletes had a great time. “None of us have ever seen snow before, and the first days on skis were very funny, because we had a hard time standing on them. Both of our young athletes are here to be part of the cultural exchange and to make friends.”
Cambodia’s participation in the winter sport academy marks the beginning of an effort to introduce Cambodian athletes to winter sports.
“The Dream Program can be seen as a way to get attention to the subject and to get young people to think about a future in winter sports,” general secretary of the NOCC Vath Chamroeun told the Post.
According to Ken Gabriel Gaddafi, advisor for the NOCC, there are also short-term plans for Cambodian participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
Vathanak Brian, 17, who was born in Phnom Penh but now lives in Italy, has the potential to qualify for 2014 in alpine skiing.
If he manages to do so, a milestone for Cambodian sports will be reached, and it will mark a new era the work of the NOCC.
So far, the most successful Khmer-born winter sports athlete is Ri Armstrong. The amputee has won numerous US junior and senior downhill competitions, and competed in the 1980 Winter
Paralympics in Norway. After an attack by the Viet Cong in 1969, Armstrong’s family was killed and he lost his leg. He was adopted by the family of an American medic who worked in a hospital in Vietnam.
He still has close ties to his mother country, and “the idea of Cambodian winter sports is very interesting, and I would like to help if it is possible,” Armstrong said.
As Brian attempts in the next few weeks to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and as Cambodian athletes look forward to taking part in next year’s Dream Program, the Cambodian quest to become a country with a winter sports program is a story that continues to gather pace.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Derbuc at [email protected]