A glorious chapter was written into Cambodia’s Asian Games history as the Kingdom won two gold medals and a bronze at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
A remarkable Brazilian ju-jitsu gold medal from 16-year-old Jessa Khan in the women’s -49kg category on Friday was followed by 26-year-old jet ski sensation Ou Moeut Saly landing an unprecedented second gold medal for the Kingdom in the ski modified event at Ancol Beach in Jakarta.
The tally of two golds and a bronze is also the highest in the annals of Cambodian sport at what is the second biggest multi-discipline event in the world after the Olympics.
Cambodia also enjoyed the unique distinction of winning gold medals in disciplines that were introduced for the first time at an Asiad, joining an elite group of countries to have achieved that distinction.
The two gold medals were also complemented by Saly fearlessly driving to bronze in the runabout 1100 stock with the able assistance of teammate Mustan Min, whose fourth place finish added to the pair’s overall total, hauling them to a podium finish ahead of the Thai pair of Kunsa Attapon and Buree Phadit.
Prime Minister Hun Sen took the lead in offering his congratulations for the gold medal winners in praise posted on his Facebook page. Hun Sen called it an unprecedented piece of history made even as the sports fraternity in the Kingdom was pleasantly surprised to see disciplines included for the first time deliver not one but two gold medals.
The tenacious Khan, born to a Cambodian father and Mexican mother who chose the US as their home, trains out of an academy in California.
Her impressive track record across US competitions and the World Championships showed as she saw off rivals with strong reputations.
Saly’s bold and efficient handling of his machine was matchless in the four-race contest, winning three outright and finishing second in one.
Only in the runabout limited and endurance runabout open did the Cambodian pair run into problems, with Saly suffering a slight shoulder injury after mechanical problems.
He eventually pulled out of the endurance test.
Respected among the best international jet skiers, the reputations of Cambodia’s Saly and Min as big time winners around the world and bright medal contenders had preceded them all the way to Indonesia.
With a back-up team of up to two dozen technicians and field experts from Thailand and Australia assisting the pair in their tough training regimen under coach Chris Talakouras of Australia, Saly (pictured, supplied) and Mustan were never far off in their mission.
Min suffered a few technical setbacks but still showed great competitive courage to back his teammate in the runabout 1100 stock by tenaciously holding onto fourth place to help the duo’s final points tally to be good enough for a bronze-medal finish.
A UIM Pro GP1 ski rider, Saly, who shares his time between the US and Pattaya in Thailand and who normally trains in Arizona’s Lake Havasu, travels all over the world to take part in various high profile events.
But he said after his triumph that winning the gold for Cambodia had always been a dream and was something incredibly special.
“I have won many big events, but winning here with the country behind you and the national colours beckoning you, I have no words to describe the thrill and excitement,” he said.
An ecstatic Talakouras said he had no doubt in his mind after the way the two riders had trained and pursued their goals that they would turn up something sensational. He said he was extremely proud that both of them had done their bit to make Cambodia proud.
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia press attache Ken Gadaffi said: “The credit for this incredible achievement must go to Talakouras and federation chief Nos Sles and the excellent back up team, and not to forget the fortitude and courage shown by the two riders.”
“As the first winners of these two newly introduced sports in the Games, Cambodia must, after having seen our potential to do well in these events, needs to grow stronger.
“As federations with limited resources and opportunities, they have done a commendable job and we need to lend them all possible help to inspire the younger generation to follow these exciting sports,” noted NOCC secretary-general Vath Chamroeun.
‘Tears of joy’
But even before the highly talked about Cambodian pair roared around Ancol’s waters during practice sessions, at the JCC Center’s Assembly Hall the two-member Brazilian ju-jitsu contenders got down to match their skill on the competitive stage for the first time representing Cambodia.
“I had to cry tears of joy just like Jessa. It is too emotional for her, for me as her coach, her teammates the federation and the country of Cambodia as a whole,” said coach Jasper Paas, a native of the Netherlands but who has lived in Cambodia for the past eight years.
He was lost for words the moment the scoreboard screamed 100-0 in favour of Khan in the final after she had Alhinaai Mahara of the United Arab Emirates in a lockdown.
The move was carried out in the same ruthless fashion in which Khan had began the first round, where she also hit the maximum century mark.
Margarita Ochoa of the Philippines, who Khan easily had the measure of in the semi-finals, and Thi Thanh Minh Duong of Vietnam each won a bronze.