After waiting 60 years for a first gold medal, Cambodia claimed two more in the space of two days as Jessa Khan and Ou Moeut Saly won the kingdom’s second and third gold medals at the 18th Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games at the weekend.
With 2014 gold medallist Sorn Seavmey hurtling out of the Taekwondo competition earlier in the week, it had looked like Cambodia would be going home empty handed but Cambodia’s first medal of the competition came on Friday in the Ju-Jitsu event with Jet-Ski adding further silverware a day later.
Khan, 16-years old and American by nationality, claimed a gold in Ju-Jitsu newaza 49 kg category sensationally defeating Mahra Alhinaai of the UAE by submission. A day later, Ou Moeut snatched the gold medal in the ski modified event at Ancol, North Jakarta. Based on accumulated points of four rounds, Ou Moeut, saw off fellow Cambodian rider Min Mustan and Pupakdee Nuttakorin of Thailand, in the fourth and final round of the ski-modified. He won a further bronze in the Ski Runabout 1100 Stock with Thai riders Attapon Kunsa and Phadit Buree capturing the top two spots.
Speaking to reporters after his win, he thanked his family. “Thank you to my family and my mum, he said. “She always cares about me when I’m competing and cheers for me.”
Cambodia’s National Olympic Committee was understandably ecstatic with the kingdom’s Jakarta success. “This is another great achievement of Cambodia,” said Secretary General Vath Chamroeun after Ou Moeut’s Jet Ski victory. “Cambodian athletes did not win a gold for 60 years until 2014. Now we can add two more!”
On Friday, Khan, who is of mixed Cambodian and Mexican heritage although is only able to speak a few words of Khmer, forced UAE’s Alhinaai to surrender to a lockdown 2 minutes and 8 seconds before time. Margarita Ochoa of the Philippines and Thi Thanh Minh Duong of Vietnam shared bronze.
It was the second gold medal for Cambodia in its 64 years of participation in the Asian Games. The first was won by Sorn Seavmey in taekwondo at the 17th Incheon Asian Games South Korea in 2014.
“I am the first female gold medalist in jiu-jitsu at the Asian Games. I am also the first female to get a submission in jiujitsu. This is the first year they had jiujitsu in the Asian Games and I am glad I could represent and put Cambodia on the map, Khan said on social media. “I had five fights to win gold. I am really happy with my performance. I am glad I could win first place, not only for myself, but for the people of Cambodia and my family. I am grateful for this opportunity. I have been working hard to get where I am at and I plan to keep working hard. I want to thank everyone that has helped me prepare for the Asian Games. I’ve had an amazing experience being in Cambodia and Indonesia. I can’t wait to come back! Thank you everyone for the continuous support.”
The Jiu-Jitsu federation of Cambodia released a statement in support of her superb victory. “We hope the people of Cambodia can show respect for her incredible achievement and efforts. The Federation has a duty to oversee and support the growth of Jiu Jitsu in the Kingdom of Cambodia, which we have done by partnering with a local gym to train home grown talent and also by looking outside of Cambodia for young talented individuals.
Jessa Khan is half Cambodian, just like the national coach and president of our Federation, Vivaddhana Khaou, and like many others today — all of whom bring important skill sets and knowledge to the table that may be lacking in Cambodia. Our aim is to transfer that knowledge to Cambodia and Cambodians.
Jiu Jitsu is a new sport in many countries, but Jessa’s extensive experience and passion for Jiu Jitsu is what Cambodia needs right now and for the foreseeable future. We, as a Federation, are fighting to ensure that these skills are taught and transferred to our younger generation who will also become the future of Cambodian Jiu Jitsu on a global stage. We must rely on all Cambodians, whether in the country or living abroad, so that the Kingdom continues to rise above all.”
Phnom Penh’s H/Art Jiu Jitsu is run by Vivaddhana Khaou and is a dedicated Jiu Jitsu school which opened its doors in 2016 after running classes out of the Prokout fight gym behind Aeon Mall. With Khan’s victory it could well now see a rush for signups from the next generation of budding medallists.
What awaits the duo of medallists on their return to Cambodia is unclear but Prime Minister Hun Sen, a keen promoter of sport, was among the first to heap praise on the winning pair.
“This is great news in the history of Cambodia, reads a Facebook post from yesterday. “We have won two [more] gold medals in the 64 years since Cambodia have been sending athletes to the Asian Games. This follows after Sorn Seavmey who helped win a first gold medal in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014. Wishing you all celebrate the success.”
After her win, Seavmey was showered with acclaim, prizes, and sponsorship while the sport of taekwondo also received a boost in popularity. Both Khan and Ou Moeut will no doubt be eager to discover their winnings but first they will be allowed some time to bask in their triumph as Cambodia’s Asian Games gold medallists.