Swimming coach Hem Kiri records the time on a stopwatch as Youth Olympic Games representative Lim Odam practices at the Olympic Stadium swimming pool. Lim Odam hopes to beat his personal best of 29 seconds in the 50 metres freestyle event in Singapore.
All photos by Sreng Meng Srun
Cambodia will be fielding four participants, including two women, under the universality policy at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games to be held in Singapore from August 14-26.
The team is made up of swimmer Lim Odam, wrestler Chab Sokneang, long distance runner Som Samphors and judo exponent Sam Sothea.
According to the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, the selections were made in compliance with the guidelines set by the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Solidarity Programme, which allows countries unable to find any candidates who can meet qualifying standards to send four participants along with four coaches for designated disciplines.
Nhan Sokvisal, who will be accompanying the delegation as Chef de Mission, noted that the athletes were still of top standard despite their free entry. “Even those who are named will have to be cleared by the IOC, which insists on certain criteria and national standing to be met by the participants,” he said. “The process has to be done with due diligence.”
After several chops and changes, the list was finalised recently, with the four Singapore bound participants undergoing intensive training at the National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh.
Budgetary constraints have forced the NOCC to drop wrestling coach Thin Vichet from the squad. However, swimming coach Hem Kiri, judo instructor Lach Vuthy and athletics coach Pov Sitha will travel with their students. NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun and NOCC President Khon Thong will join the delegation as special invitees. Southeast Asian Games silver medal-winning wrestler Chum Chivinn has been chosen as the Kingdom’s Young Ambassador for the games.
Fifty metres freestyle national swimming champion Lim Odam will head to Singapore with mixed feelings. “I am nervous,” he said. “At the same time I am excited to be part of such a huge event.”
Working under the watchful eyes of Hem Kiri at the Olympic Stadium swimming pool, Odam made his intentions known. “I want to at least better my personal best, which is 29 seconds. I know the competition will be very tough. It is difficult to even think of a medal. I hope I put up a good show”.
Interestingly, Hem Kiri, a national swimmer of note in his heyday, holds the 26 second national record over 50 metres, but the coach is confident Odam will do well in Singapore.
“I know how hard it is on an international stage, but the sheer experience of mingling with some of the best names in the game will help Odam,” said Hem Kiri. “I am putting him through some flexibility excercises, basically working on his fitness, and diving has been a part of that. He is in good shape. We are looking forward to that Olympic splash.”
But former judo ace turned coach Lach Vuthy has a different perspective. “We are not there for medals. My motto is: participate and prosper. The more international exposure an athlete gets the better for his or her growth. Confidence is what enhances performances.”
Vuthy’s trainee Sam Sothea has a modest record in the under-44 kilograms section. “She is as keen as she is tough,” Vuthy said as he put her through the paces at the judo hall. “In fact, Sothea was NOCC’s original choice. She preferred to stay out because of her studies. Another girl was named, but [Sothea] is back.”
Sothea expressed her feelings ahead of the games. “I feel a bit nervous, but I also feel strongly that I should perform well,” she said.
Athletics coach Pov Sitha is hailing track runner Som Samphors as an effective underdog. “He can create a surprise in Singapore,” said the coach. “He is a strong runner and the 3-kilometre run is his pet event.”
Samphors’ impressive performance at a Ho Chi Minh City event last year, when he finished sixth in a strong field, has put him in good stead for this trip. Since the Vietnam race, Samphors has earned modest placing in an event in Thailand and last month finished second in the Phnom Penh Thmey half marathon, a result that has boosted the confidence of both Samphors and his coach.
Chab Sokneang will compete in the women’s 46-kilogram freestyle wrestling event. She may be short on experience on the big stage, but her enthusiasm and energy sets her apart from other teammates. However, without her coach Thin Vichet to shout guidance from the sidelines, Sokneang will need to muster up all of her courage to succeed in a tough field.
Judo coach Lach Vuthy mirrors the actions of student Sam Sothea as she throws an opponent during training.
Athletics coach Pov Sitha corrects Som Samphors’ starting stance during a training session on the Olympic Stadium running track.
Wrestling coach Thin Vichet gives instructions to Chab Sokneang during training at the National Sports Complex.