Six athletes will represent Cambodia at the Olympic Games in Rio, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia officially announced on Friday.
In all, a contingent of 16 people will travel to Rio, comprising six athletes, four coaches, four officials and two chief delegates.
The group has high hopes of winning an Olympic medal with the inclusion of taekwondo sensation Sorn Seavmey.
Having brought home Cambodia’s first ever Asian Games gold medal from Incheon in 2014, 21-year-old Seavmey broke another great barrier by winning the Olympic qualification event in Manila last month.
She is now ranked among the top 50 in the world in her weight category of +67kg and is currently training in South Korea under long-time national coach Choi Yung Suk, who rates her Olympic qualification a notch higher in value and significance than her Asian Games gold medal, though both go down as epoch-making achievements.
Announcing the squad to the media at the NOCC headquarters, Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the NOCC, touched on several Olympics-related issues, including the criteria adopted for selecting the athletes and the worldwide concerns about the Zika virus.
“We received an advisory from the International Olympic Committee that measures are already in place to ensure the safety of all from Zika. We are not unduly worried about this though I am well aware of concerns expressed in several countries,” Vath Chamroeun told the Post.
Four of the six athletes heading to Rio, including Seavmey, could not make it to this introductory session since they are training in other countries.
Female wrestler Chov Sotheara and men’s marathon contender Japanese-Cambodian Neko Hiroshi were the only competitors present.
With Seavmey making the grade on merit, the NOCC has secured universality placements from the IOC for five others.
Female swimmer Hemthon Vithiny, who is training in Phuket, Thailand, will compete in the 50 metre freestyle and American-Cambodian Pou Sovijja, who is in the United States for his Rio preparations, will line up for the men’s 100 metre freestyle.
Winner of SEA Games gold medals in Laos (2009) and Myanmar (2013), Chov Sotheara is a veteran of many regional and international battles.
Though she is in her early 30s, she continues to be zestful and her performances in the qualifying tournaments have been quite encouraging.
“We were happy to secure her a place to fight in the 48kg category,” said Vath Chamroeun, who is himself an Olympic wrestler, representing Cambodia in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
For the first time, Cambodia will pitch in a female runner in the Olympics with the nomination of 42-year-old Nary Ly, who has been putting her self through a rigourous regimen of high-altitude training in the most sought after venue in Kenya, Iten.
On the two marathon choices, the NOCC secretary-general laid out the rationale behind choosing Nary Ly and 38-year-old Neko Hiroshi ahead of younger prospects.
“Age is a factor but in long-distance races like the marathon, experience and stamina also count. We were encouraged by Nary Ly’s passion for long distance running and her performances. Her timing in the Valencia Marathon was marginally better than the gold medal winner at the Singapore SEA Games’’, Vath Chamroeun pointed out.
There was obviously a lot of media interest in Neko Hiroshi, who answered several questions in his native Japanese tongue while throwing in a few broken Khmer sentences. He said he was happy and proud to compete as a Cambodian and regarded the country as his home since becoming a citizen of the Kingdom in 2011.
Stoutly defending Hiroshi’s nomination for a universality placement, Vath Chamroeun said two factors were clearly in favour of the popular Japanese comedian this time.
‘Well ahead of the rest’
“When we nominated him for the 2012 London Olympics, he had not completed the one-year period he was required to after his change of status in terms of Cambodian nationality. So the IAAF ruled him ineligible to compete. He has now completed well over four years thus he is eligible like any other Cambodian” Vath Chamroeun said.
“As for his performance, Hiroshi won the inaugural Angkor Empire Marathon and more importantly we held a marathon in Kep as national selection trial early last month and he won it well ahead of the rest,” he said.
The Cambodian squad is scheduled to leave Phnom Penh on July 29 for the August 5 to 21 Summer Games in Brazil.