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Cambodia is slowly rebuilding its sports program by trying to assemble a team of athletes who will give pride to the country previously marred by turmoil and financial constraints. Whilst Cambodia has top sports stars, the country’s sport was on its knees for several years before, suffering from lack of funding. Now, the country is ready to stand up again and show the world it has a lot to offer.
Aside from Sepak Takraw, Bokator, and Pradal Serey, football is also one of the top sports in Cambodia. It has gained a lot of following lately. Football in Cambodia is under the Cambodian Football Federation, which administers the Metfone C-League and the national football team.
Interestingly, Cambodia has top sports stars that come from less popular sports such as taekwondo and track and field. Here is our list of Cambodian sports stars to watch out for:
Sorn Seavmey is the most decorated of all Cambodian taekwondo sports stars. She made history by breaking the country’s drought when she took home the gold medal at the Asian Games since its participation in 1954. During the 2014 Asian Games held in Incheon, Seavmey defeated Uzbekistan 29-7, Philippines 6-5, and finally Iran 7-4 to become the first ever Cambodian to win a gold medal.
The Phnom Penh regularly trains with her siblings Sorn Elit and Sorn Davin, who are both taekwondo practitioners. Seavmey has also won gold medals at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia. She was Cambodia’s flag bearer during the Parade of Nations of the 2016 Summer Olympics and at the 2018 Asian Games opening.
Hem Bunting is often lauded for honing his skill and perfecting his craft despite having almost zero funding and facilities for him to train. The Cambodian marathoner is one of the nine children of farmers hailing from Stung Treng Province. Bunting had no access to a state-of-the-art stadium where he can train but he was able to win a silver medal in the marathon and a bronze medal at the 5,000-metre race during the 2007 Southeast Asian Games. The only training Bunting had in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics was by running laps on a track commonly used by casual joggers. He cannot even afford to buy running shoes. The BBC article about his struggles moved one reader who sent him new training shoes before he competed during the Beijing Olympics.
Bunting currently holds the national marathon record with a personal best of 2:23:29 at the 2012 Paris Marathon and an official intermediate time at the half marathon with a time of 1:09:04, a new national record. He also won a bronze medal during the 2009 Southeast Asian Games.
Born in Kandal Province, Samorn Kieng is a Cambodian middle-distance runner who has competed in the men’s 800-metre event during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Despite being eliminated in the first round, Kieng finished with the best time of 1:55:26.
Kieng also broke records when he joined the 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships by having a recorded time of 1:59:14, a national record. He also participated at the 2013 World Championships in Athletics.
Hem Thon Vitiny is one of Cambodia’s successful sports stars. The Cambodian swimmer from Phnom Penh is a four-time Olympian having competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 50-metre freestyle event. She finished 57th in the first round and failed to advance into the semifinals. She was one of the only four women athletes who represented Cambodia at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Thon Vitiny takes inspiration from his uncle, Hem Thon Ponleu, also a national swimmer.
Born to a Cambodian father and a Thai mother, Sovijja Pou is a competitive swimmer who mainly competes in butterfly and freestyle events. He competed in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games where he broke four Cambodian national swimming records (100-metre freestyle, 100-metre butterfly, 200-metre butterfly, and 400-metre freestyle). He competed in the 100-metre freestyle event of the 2016 Summer Olympics event ranking 57th with a time of 54.55 seconds.
An MMA flyweight fighter who fought in the ONE Championships and Full Metal Dojo (FMD) promotion, Oum Sam Tharoth is a submission and bokator specialist. Nicknamed “Little Frog,” Tharoth ranks 20th out of the 100 active Southeast Asian women (pound for pound). All of Tharoth’s wins result from a submission, making her an intriguing athlete who fans hope to make a comeback sooner than later.
In addition to being an athlete, Tharoth is also a well-known actor, assistant director, and singer in Cambodia. She famously made an appearance in Angelina Jolie’s Netflix film, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.
Chan Rothana is one athlete who fights for the pride of Cambodia. His tenacity as a fighter shows in his power and performance in the ring. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand during the height of the Cambodian civil war, Chan began training in martial arts when he was young. Lucky for him, his father is a master of the Khmer martial art Yutakhun Khom, an ancient fighting art that combines weapon techniques and striking wrestling.
He began competing when he was 17 years old and has since fought more than 90 times without losing by stoppage. The MMA star is also a black belter in taekwondo but picked up mixed martial arts to bring his skill and art form on the global scale.
Prak Mony Udom is a Cambodian professional footballer who plays for the Cambodian-League club PKR Svay Rieng Football Club and the Cambodian national football team as a forward. He is the third Cambodian forward released in the Malaysia Super League. He was awarded the Hun Sen Cup Gold Boot in 2015 and the FFC Best Player of the Year in 2017.
Hailing from Prey Veng, Chhin Chhoeun is a Cambodian football player who plays for the National Defense Ministry in the Cambodian League. He joined the Cambodia national under-23 the football team for the 2011 SEA Games, the Cambodia national football team for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification. Chhin is praised for his versatility that allows him to play as a right wing, right back, and as a striker.
With a strong roster of athletes and adequate funding and support, these top Cambodian sports stars could soon become the best.