As the happy recollections of the Rio Olympics linger, Cambodia’s sports administration is reaching for the reset button to refine its summer games participation policy with an eye on Tokyo 2020.
Cambodia took great pride in fielding an Olympic qualifier for the first time since the Kingdom began competing at summer games in 1956, with taekwondo star Sorn Seavmey earning her ticket to Rio, but her early exit dealt a big blow to the country’s medal hopes, which had never been higher.
Going into Tokyo in four years time, Cambodia will still be among the 71 countries seeking an Olympic medal of any colour, even as tiny nations like Kosovo and Fiji created a big bang with first-time gold medals.
“Rio was an eye-opener at many levels for us. We need to rethink our Olympic participation policy and shift our focus and emphasis on our athletes achieving qualification standards rather than depend on wild cards and special quotas,” the secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, Vath Chamroeun, told the Post in an exclusive interview summing up his thoughts on the Rio Olympics.
“It was heartening to see Cambodian performances show improvements in technique, but these are small comforts. We find ourselves out of our depth, way out of the medal reckoning – and it is time for change,” he said.
According to Chamroeun, who was Cambodia’s first Olympian wrestler, at the 1996 Atlanta games, the universality placement “wild cards” that are often sought blunt the seriousness of the Olympic challenge and tend to bring a “festive” element to participation.
“What an athlete must realise is how hard it is to qualify, and it’s even harder still to earn a medal. We need to encourage this thought process so that we have someone deeply committed to the cause of Olympics,” the NOCC secretary-general said.
In the NOCC’s post-Rio assessment, the country’s prime sports body has decided to stick to the two routine quotas in athletics and swimming, and will vigorously pursue qualification efforts in combat sports like taekwondo, judo, wrestling and karate, which makes its first appearance at Tokyo 2020.
“This is the goal we have for Tokyo. With our inaugural National games being unveiled in October, we can spot emerging talent and support the ideal candidates, who can train long and hard enough to aim for the qualifying marks,” Chamroeun said.
The higher the pre-Olympic climb, the harder the fall for Seavmey, but in the eyes of NOCC, it was her inexperience that cost her the fight against Reshmie Oogink.
Giving the Post a rare insight to her preparations at Rio, Chamroeun said that, ultimately, Seavmey’s raw courage simply could not stand up to her Dutch rival’s conviction and fight intelligence.
“The three of us – me, Seavmey and her coach Choi Yong Sok – watched hours of Oogink’s action footage on Youtube.
“Based on that, the coach and athlete planned their counters to many of the Dutch fighter’s perceived strengths, like the lead left leg she so effectively used in those fights,” he recalled.
“But when it came to the nitty gritty, the Dutch girl, who was seemingly worried before the fight about the much taller and younger Seavmey’s capabilities, completely changed her style – clearly a clever move by an experienced fighter,” Chamroeun said.
“Having worked out a particular tactical strategy, Seavmey was taken aback and couldn’t really come up with an alternative quick enough.
“She was a bit nervous to begin with when she entered the mat and could not process her thoughts well enough,” the former wrestler said.
“The result was that, while Oogink’s plan to fight one point at a time worked, Seavmey’s reactive thinking could hardly produce anything tangible.
“We can’t blame her, but I am certain she will be all the wiser after this experience. We hope she can do well at the sea games and the Asian games en route to Tokyo,” Chamroeun said.