After a journey of 16,000 kilometres spread across nearly 30 hours, with transit stops in Bangkok and Dubai, the Cambodian squad reached the Brazilian seaside city of Rio de Janeiro last Friday evening for South America’s first-ever Olympics, which will welcome over 10,000 athletes from 206 countries.
As Brazil confronts controversies including the Russian doping scandal, housing horrors, security concerns, scare over the Zika virus and nearly a million unsold tickets, the mood among the participants, as reflected by the Cambodian team members, is one of optimism that all the troubles would end by the time the curtain goes up at the Maracana Stadium on Friday.
Much cooler climes than they are used to greeted the Cambodian competitors, but that hardly bothered any of them. After resting the night out and getting over jet-lag, the athletes headed to the gym for light workouts before taking a tour of the athletes village which will serve as their home for the next three weeks.
“It was amazing how quickly the athletes got over the long trip as they are so excited to be in Brazil among the world’s best athletes. With several other countries already in the village, the atmosphere is bubbling with enthusiasm, and it is not hard to see why the athletes may have overcome the stress of the journey so quickly,’’ Cambodia’s press attache Ken Gadaffi told the Post.
“In a couple of days they will adjust themselves to the weather, and each one of them is very keen to get through their paces,’’ he said.
“We arrived safely, the athletes are in good health and physical condition, and we are looking forward to the games,” said secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Vath Chamroeun in a special video message posted on the NOCC’s Facebook page.
Full speed training
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s coaches will start full training today after taking note of the training schedules assigned by the Rio organising committee.
The official team welcome ceremony will be held on Tuesday at 6pm local time, while the official Games opening ceremony will be held on Friday (which means that, as Rio is 10 hours behind Phnom Penh, a scheduled start time of 6am on Saturday morning Cambodian time).
At the heart of Cambodia’s aspirations is a medal of any hue from taekwondo star Sorn Seavmey, who has multiplied expectations after attaining Olympic qualification for the Kingdom for the first time in nearly 60 years.
While lively anticipation surrounds the prospects of Seavmey making it to the medal round, her coach Choi Yong Sok has his sights firmly set on getting his ward to full fitness before she enters the Carioca Arena two weeks from now.
During her training stint in South Korea, Seavmey picked up a knee injury that took a couple of weeks to heal. Though she resumed training and all seemed well, there were some lingering doubts about her full fitness.
As Choi Yong Sok pointed out during an interview with the Post on the eve of the squad’s departure on Thursday, the 15-day break she will get should help her both physically and mentally get back to her peak condition.
Sovijja first up
Of the six Cambodian athletes, the first to enter competition will be swimmer Pou Sovijja. He will line up in the men’s 100m freestyle heat on August 10, while Hem Thon Vitiny will hit the pool in the women’s 50m freestyle three days later.
Cambodia’s first-ever women’s marathon runner, 42-year-old Nary Ly will line up at the Sambodromo Maracana on August 14, drawing huge inspiration from Great Britain’s Jo Pavey, also 42, who is competing in her fifth Olympics and often called “Granny” by teammates.
Wrestler Chov Sotheara will be competing in the women’s 48kg division, beginning from August 17. The 33-year-old multiple SEA Games medallist has already made clear her intentions to retire after the Olympics.
She told the Post before the trip that she could not think of a better way than ending her long career with a good performance at Rio.
After enduring a four-year wait, Neko Hiroshi will realise his dream of representing Cambodia in the Olympics on August 21 when the men’s marathon gets under way at 9.30am local time.