It was a day of glory for Team Cambodia at the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where the ongoing Special Olympics World Games on Wednesday saw the bravery of Thay Sokunthim rewarded with a gold medal in the men’s 200m as two of his compatriots also put on bronze medal-winning performances.
Running the race of his life, Sokunthim clocked 29.75 seconds to top Division 39 for a precious gold medal as his teammate Meas Makara took the Division 47 bronze over 200 metres in a time of 34.69 seconds.
Competing in women’s singles bocce, a sport similar to petanque, Rath Samphos also won a bronze for Cambodia, while Poeung Vuthy was beaten to fourth place in the men’s singles.
While the Cambodian performances have been given raving praise in social media circles, there is lively anticipation of more successes to follow today as four other athletes await their turns in the finals.
Medal hopes are pinned on Phally Amorpich, who figures in both the women’s 25m and 50m in the company of Vorn Sochulia (25m) and Kien Sreypov (50m).
In the men’s competition Thay Sokunthim has an excellent opportunity to score a sprint double as he lines up for the 100m, an event that will also give Sam Ang Uth a medal chance in another division.
The World Games are the centrepiece of the Special Olympics Movement, which are organised every two years and alternate between Summer and Winter Games.
Cambodian national coach Chab Rathana said: “Despite a small team, our Cambodian athletes have succeeded at the Special Olympics.
This is Cambodia’s third participation, the first was in Shanghai, China in 2007, then Athens in Greece in 2011 and now this time in the USA.
Over the three occasions, we have won seven gold, seven silver and four bronze medals.”
According to its general secretary Klang Chanthu, the Cambodia Special Olympic Federation was formed in 2006 in order to enable children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the Kingdom in sporting activities.
The federation is part of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, with some of its assistance coming from non-governmental organisations and USAID.
By far the world’s biggest sport and humanitarian event of the year, the Games are matchless for social and emotional impact.
Thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers and supporters take part in these games to hail the bravery and sporting skills of athletes with intellectual disabilities.
US first lady Michelle Obama opened the games on Saturday, welcoming 6,500 athletes from 165 countries.
“My husband and I, we are so incredibly proud of you, and we love you all from the bottom of our hearts,” Obama said.
The athletes were an example to the millions watching around the world, she said.
Olympic athletes Michael Phelps and Greg Louganis were among the event special ambassadors.
The sister of President John F Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, started a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Maryland in 1962.
This became an annual event, becoming the Special Olympics we know today in 1968.
Additional reporting by Yeun Punlork, Translation by In Sopheng