2018 was a year of highs and lows in Cambodia’s sporting scene. The Kingdom sent athletes to compete with Asia’s best at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia and returned with silverware in some unlikely events. Elsewhere, the kingdom’s football scene saw a tumultuous year in both international and domestic action. Cambodian athletes also shone in the MMA cage and on the Billiards table. Khmer Times looks back at some of 2018’s highlights, as well as some lowlights.
Cambodia’s Golden Asian Games
There can be no better place to start than Cambodian participation on the continent’s greatest sporting stage – the Asian Games – which this year was held in Indonesia.
Cambodia’s contingent of athletes departed for their Asian Games sojourn in August, and shocked spectators with medals in some unexpected and unfamiliar sports.
With Sorn Seavmey hurtling out of the Taekwondo competition early in the competition, it looked like Cambodia would be going home empty handed. But a medal came in the unlikely Martial Art event of Jiu-Jitsu.
Jessa Khan, born in the USA to a Cambodian father and a Latin American mother, won Cambodia’s first 2018 Asian Games gold medal after sensationally defeating Mahra Alhinaai of the UAE.
At the same competition, Ou Moeut Saly, who hails from Thbong Khum province, claimed his Asian Games gold medal in the ski modified event. Based on accumulated points of four rounds, he saw off Thai duo Teeraprateep Kasidit and Pupakdee Nuttakorin who were awarded silver and bronze respectively. He won a further bronze in the Runabout 1100 Stock with Thai riders Attapon Kunsa and Phadit Buree capturing the top two spots.
Later in the year they continued to add to their rapidly expanding trophy cabinets after claiming further prizes from international competition in China and the USA respectively.
In October, Ou Moeut won first prize in the Amateur Ski 1500cc stock event at the 2018 Baili Liujiang International Jetski Open in China. Meanwhile, 17-year old Khan continued to dominate on the mat to capture four gold medals from the SJJIF World Jiu-Jitsu Championship at the Long Beach Arena in California, as well as a victory at the No-GI World Championships.
National Games gets royal blessing
In May, athletes, performers, and spectators packed Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium and its environs to celebrate the Second National Games.
In a glittering opener, King Norodom Sihamoni handed the ceremonial torch to its bearers at the Royal Palace. The torch bearers – led by 2017 SEA Games Gold medallist Khim Dhima – ran in relay to the Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony and where the torch found its way to Taekwondo champion Sorn Seavmey.
After climbing the steps towards the Prime Minister, Seavmey passed the torch on to the Cambodian Premier who used a remote control to let fly burning arrows into the ceremonial cauldron to signal the start of the Games.
Over 5,000 performers took part in a grand opening ceremony which featured performances ranging from the traditional Apsara and Bokator, to acrobatics, Taekwondo, and a grand military parade. The ceremony culminated in a rendition of an original National Games’ song dubbed; Achariyeak Keyla Cheat – Wonder of National Sport. Music performances from famed musicians Preap Sovath, Meas Soksophea, and Ouk Sokunkanha entertained the throng into the evening.
Speaking at the ceremony the president of the NOCC, Thong Khon, said that the National Games were aimed at enhancing the capabilities of the kingdom’s athletes.
“The decision to host the 32nd SEA Games in 2023 is a source of national pride and for Cambodian people as a whole, said Dr. Khon, who is also Minister of Tourism. “A national sporting event is an important factor in strengthening the competitiveness of our athletes. It also serves to improve our capability to lead and manage major sporting events,” he added.
4,163 athletes competed in 27 disciplines for some 284 gold, 584 silver and 703 bronze medals on behalf of their provinces.
Rothana victorious in return
Chan Rothana, Cambodia’s premier mixed martial artist, made his long-awaited returned to the ONE Championship cage in December at ONE: Destiny of Champions In Kuala Lumpur with a punishing defeat of Indonesia’s Abro “The Black Komodo” Fernandes.
Rothana, returning for the first time since a controversial April 2017 loss to China’s Xie Bin, was able to fend off Fernandes’ fearsome grappling to secure a TKO finish at the 4:06 mark of the second round.
With less than a minute to go in round two, he dropped the Indonesian with a powerful knee, and then finished him off with strikes on the ground to cement the win.
In the ONE Super Series side, Sok Thy presided over a pair of tremendous fights with Thai legend Lerdsila Phuket Top Team.
Thy, a Cambodian Top Team (CTT) fighter, got a second crack at Lerdsila after the controversy which engulfed their first encounter in June.
In June, Thy fought Lerdsila in a ONE Super Series Muay Thai flyweight bout on the main card of ONE: Pinnacle of Power in Macau. After a tremendous back-and-forth battle between two high-level strikers, Lerdsila controversially emerged victorious after three rounds with a split decision verdict.
After much online outrage at the decision, Chatri Sityodtong, Chairman and CEO of ONE Championship, awarded an automatic rematch for November’s ONE: Warrior’s Dream in Jakarta.
Lerdsila got the better of his opponent, emerging victorious via unanimous decision in their ONE Super Series Muay Thai rematch.
Lerdsila ensured there was no such controversy in their second bout as the three-division Rajadamnern Muay Thai World Champion used his crisp striking to earn a clear-cut decision victory after three rounds in the mixed martial arts cage.
In October, the inaugural edition of the Cambodian MMA congress was held at the NOCC headquarters.
Among the attendees were Bokator Grandmaster Hok Chheang Kim, Cambodian Top Team (CTT) coach and founder Hun Chan Reach, Derek Bidaut, founder & director at Prodal Fight & Fitness Studio, and a slew of fighters including much-loved female fight sensation Tharoth Sam, and CTT’s ONE Championship trio of fighters Meas Meul, Rin Saroth and Sor Sey.
With MMA among the leading participation sports in recent years, the kingdom’s sporting authorities hope Cambodia can begin to match its potential in international competition.
Keisuke Honda: Loved and loathed
In August, football observers from around the world reacted with a mixture of astonishment and bemusement after Keisuke Honda was unveiled as the new General Manager. He was handed a two-year unpaid contract, Alongside head coach Felix Dalmas, he oversaw Cambodia’s at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
However, his impact was muted as the Angkor Warriors bowed out at the group stage following galling defeats to Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Yet Honda, who continues to turn out as a player for Melbourne Victory, said he remained hopeful that his presence in the role of general manager would help the country to improve its football.
Despite the support of many, Honda was called out by Human Rights Watch earlier this month for taking up the position.
The Japanese footballer was rebuked by Brad Adams, executive director of Asia at HRW for taking on a leadership role in the Cambodian national team.
The International human rights watchdog, in a piece titled ‘Japan: Football Star Working for Rights Abuser’, said that “Keisuke Honda’s agreement to coach Cambodia’s national soccer team links him to a senior Cambodian official implicated in alleged war crimes.
The organisation expressed astonishment that a player with the visibility of Honda was happy to work alongside FFC President General Sao Sokha whom it alleged was “the general of the blood-stained-in uniform because of involvement in countless killings. Deadly and war crimes in Cambodia.”
General Sokha is serving a fourth term as President of Cambodian football’s organising body and was first elected in 2006.
The FFC responded to the allegations by backing the General in a strongly worded statement outlining his work and social contributions including eliminating the use of illicit drugs among the youth, raising respect for traffic laws, awareness of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, unexploded ordnance, and environmental protection.
Korea unearths Cambodia’s ‘Billiards Beauty’
It was a year of silverware for Cambodian Carom Billiards queen Srong Pheavy who continued to fly the flag of Cambodia high with a series of stunning victories in her adopted home of South Korea.
In December she capped a tremendous year with a first place prize at the Zanka 1st Asian three-cushion open billiard championships.
Mrs. Pheavy, 28, defeated South Korea’s Kim Bum-mi 30-22 in the final at the Seoul’s Olympic Parktel, in South Korea.
She also dominated Korean competition, winning top prize at the 14th Korea Sports Council National Billiards Championships in early December.
In September, in the Turkish city of Izmir, Pheavy was ejected at the semi-final stage of the 2018 Ladies 3-Cushion World Championships going down to legendary former champion Orie Hida of Japan. She was making her international debut for Cambodia at the Izmir tournament and surprised fans with her charge to the semis.
She had been announced as eligible to represent the kingdom in international competition earlier this year after returning to the kingdom to meet with National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) officials.
In July, the Snooker and Billiards Federation of Cambodia officially declared its first mandate at the headquarters of the NOCC, with Mrs. Pheavy invited as a guest of honour.
Having moved to South Korea in 2010 to be with her Korean husband, the ‘Billiards Beauty’ as she has been dubbed by local media outlets, has thrilled fans by winning no less than 20 major honours. Hailing from Kampong Cham, she took up billiards a mere six years ago.
Siem Reap hosts international Bodybuilding competition
In June, Cambodia hosted the 15th Southeast Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championships and Congress in Siem Reap.
Athletes from across the region descended on the temple town marking the first time the Kingdom has hosted the event.
Cambodia’s Nom Sobin walked away with the gold in the Men’s Athletic Physique Up-to-170 cm, in the Men’s Sports Physique: Up-to-170 cm category, Sambo Sophorn claimed gold, while in the Men’s Athletic Physique Over 175 cm, Keo Samnang, also scored a gold medal. Final results released saw Cambodia collect a final tally of four gold medals, two silvers, and 3 bronze.
Organisers hoped to show Cambodia as a modern, dynamic country capable and welcoming of international events and tourists.
Mr Rasmey Sokmongkol, President of the Cambodian Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation said he was eager to show the world that the kingdom could host international competition.
“I wanted to show the world that Cambodia can and will host such events, said Mr. Sokmongkol in his opening address.
Bokator aims for UNESCO listing
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announced in June it had delayed its official listing of Cambodia’s Kun L’bokator to its World Heritage List.
Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said that the organisation has already decided to recognise the martial art for its cultural significance, but the agency has suspended the listing until November 2020.
The status of Cambodia’s Kun L’bokator was expeted to be unveiled in November this year alongside traditional Lakhon Khol dancing. Cambodia first submitted its application for Kun L’bokator in 2017.
Sam Kim Sean, a key figure in Kun L’bokator, said that he was disappointed at the decision, adding that recognition could increase Kun L’bokator’s international exposure.
“We want the listing fast because we want our martial art to be well known,” Mr Kim Sean said. “We want to show the world Cambodia’s ancient martial art.”
The martial art has attracted sports fans during big events like the Angkor Sanktranta event in Siem Reap. The martial also held its National Championship 2018 in November featuring 153 athletes from 18 clubs nationwide.
NagaWorld win, Leonardo In
claimed the 2018 Metfone C-League title in September – capturing only their second league win. Naga went into matchweek 21 on 50 points at the summit of the league with BK sitting closely behind on 48. Naga’s three points against Visakha saw them reach an unassailable tally to secure a long-awaited championship title for coach Meas Channa and his men.
Their latest league win brought to a close almost a decade without the championship trophy in Naga hands – their last win coming in 2009 then known as NagaCorp. They also triumphed in 2007.
For goalkeeper Sou Yaty, the win was extra sweet. Speaking after the game the keeper said the title was well deserved.
“It’s a long season but happy to have played a part in the win, said the keeper affectionately dubbed ‘Super Save’ by his fans.
“Our play was good and we were strong enough to beat strong opposition – not only today but throughout the season.”
For Phnom Penh Crown, Cambodia’s most successful domesticclub side, it was a tumultuous year which saw the ejection of Sean Sainsbury in favour of former Cambodia National Team coach Leonardo Vitorino.
Cambodian football’s worst kept secret was revealed in October as Crown confirmed the appointment of the much-loved Brazilian tactician. Asked what he hoped to achieve at Crown, Vitorino set the bar high.
“Sure I want to win the league. 100 percent! I know it will be a big challenge. You need to prove how good you are when you get a big challenge like this. Also for the players, and the youngsters it will also be a big challenge.”