Koh Kong-born Po Phearith, better known as Yen Dina, became the only member of his team to bring home gold medal in Kun Khmer Boxing at the SEA Games in Vietnam. Six of his teammates were able to earn bronze, while three crashed out of the top eight qualifiers.
Before claiming his gold at the Hanoi games, which officially closed on May 23, Dina admitted that he never expected to emerge victorious from the final. In his semi-final bout, he found himself under serious pressure in the first round, after falling victim to a flurry of ferocious kicks from his Thai opponent, Norapat Khundam. Dina was subject to a standing count by the referee in the first round, but staged an astonishing comeback to take the final two rounds of the three-round fight and earn a place in the final.
Despite defeating his Thai rival in the 63.5kg semi, Dina remained concerned about the final, especially after he learned that he would be facing the host nation’s Cao Minh Phat Truong. He was afraid of the judges giving biased points as, he said, some of his teammates had experienced this in earlier matches. However, he put on a powerful display which left no doubt about who the dominant fighter was, and took all three rounds.
“I’m really excited and happy to have taken the gold. I can’t find the words to describe my feelings,” he said after the match.
“To be honest, I did not think I could make it through the final and come away with the win, because all of my opponents are strong, talented boxers. First, I met the Thai fighter who kicked me in the neck and forced the referee to give me a standing count, and then I had to meet the Vietnamese boxer and was worried the judges would not let me win the match.
“In the final bout against the Vietnamese fighter, I did not expect much. I was afraid of being beaten through being denied points. That all changed when I saw my teammates giving me the thumbs up after the first round, indicating that I had won it. That allayed my fears and encouraged me to work harder. At the same time, I took inspiration from our sporting leaders who had come to watch the match,” he added.
After winning the final, Dina also thanked his parents, saying: “No matter what competition I travel to, I always miss my parents. I remember speaking to them through my heart, and saying ‘my parents, please help me to win this gold’. When I return to the Kingdom, I will train even harder than before. This was my first time fighting at the SEA Games, and my first time fighting in elbow pads and headgear.”
Sok Rith, who boxed in the 54kg category, and Cha Chandeng, a 48kg fighter, were kept medal-less after being eliminated by Thai and Vietnamese athletes in their qualifying matches. Van Voeun, a 57kg competitor, was lucky enough to draw a bye and advance automatically to the semi-finals, thus guaranteeing a medal. Unfortunately, he was unable to take advantage of the easier path, losing his semi-final and returning home with bronze.