The ongoing Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam were only the second time Cambodian athletes competed at the games in kickboxing, and the fighters had to learn to avoid using their elbows and knees — as they were trained in another sport, local martial art kun khmer.
Kickboxer Touch Rachhan won Cambodia’s first gold in these SEA Games late last week, while other Cambodian athletes also earned three silvers and one bronze in the sport.
“They came from kun khmer. They are good athletes in kun khmer and we made some changes in order to meet the conditions and techniques as required,” said Heng Sokharn, president of the Cambodian Kickboxing Federation.
The key change was to stop using elbows and knees for hitting, Sokharn said. The athletes trained under the new requirements for a year and a half, the federation hoped for as many as three gold medals.
“Our athletes did well because our athletes already had the potential,” he said. “When they commit their hearts for national pride, they will do well.”
The previous SEA Games in the Philippines were the first time Cambodian athletes had participated in kickboxing; though Cambodia won three silvers there, the results were underwhelming due to lack of experience, Sokharn said.
This year’s SEA Games — originally scheduled for 2021 but postponed due to Covid-19 — began on Thursday and is due to run another week through May 23.
As of Sunday, Cambodia had won one gold, four silvers and 10 bronze medals, said Nhan Sokvisal, the deputy head of the Cambodian mission. It is a long way below hosts Vietnam — at more than 70 gold medals — but Sokvisal said Cambodia was still awaiting results from petanque, taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, kun khmer and Vietnamese martial art vovinam to try to surpass the previous games’ four gold medals.
Cambodia is also scheduled to host the next iteration of the SEA Games next year. “[We] hope that when we are hosting the game, [I] think it will be good and the result could be better,” Sokvisal said.
Sreu Sreng, a sports journalist for online news outlet Keila Daily, said he had followed kickboxing and kun khmer at this year’s Hanoi games, and the events had been running smoothly. He had been a sports journalist for 10 years, and had seen Cambodia improve in most sports, he said.
For Sokvisal, the Cambodian official, the kickboxing gold had been the great surprise so far in the tournament. “I am excited, and didn’t expect it because with kickboxing we just entered for the second time,” he said.