Kickboxing chasing gold rush as 18 sports begin medal campaign

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian kickboxer Chhoeung Lvei (right) tries to land a kick on Honorio Banario Antonio of the Philippines during their semi-final bout on Wednesday. SUPPLIED

Four Cambodian kickboxers will arrive at the end of their gold medal campaigns on May 13, while their compatriots would begin their quests in 18 other sports, notably Ju-Jitsu star Jessa Khan, returning to defend her gold medal.

Throughout the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Vietnam, Cambodian kickboxers have had impressive results. Local top boxers Touch Rachan – better known as Beut Sangkheum – as well as Lon Panha and Kan Meng Hong all recorded wins in the May 10 semi-finals. Chhoeung Lvei will join them, after defeating Honorio Banario Antonio of the Philippines in the 71kg bout by unanimous decision 3-0 in his semi-final on May 11.

With their victories, all four will compete for gold medals in the May 13 final. Matches begin at 7:15pm. It is predicted that none of them will have an easy path, as they face top kickboxers from Thailand and Vietnam. All of them will have to produce more of the same hard work that propelled them through the semi-finals.

According to the schedule, Sangkheum will face Thai opponent Arunno Sivapan in the 57kg class at 7:15pm, followed by Meng Hong’s bout with Thai Sungnoi Chaiwat in the 54kg an hour later. This is seen as a particularly challenging match-up, as the Thai qualified by beating host nation fighter Duong Danh Hoat 3-0 on points.

Lon Panha will face Vietnam’s Nguyen The Huong – who knocked out Malaysia’s Kiang Athachai in the 67kg semi-finals – at 9:15pm. Lvei will be the last to get a shot at gold, with his 71kg bout against Thai fighter Thongchai Thapphi beginning at 10:15pm.

Eighteen other sports federations will get their first taste of games’ competition on May 13-15. Friday will see 3x3 basketball, bodybuilding, eSports, fencing, golf, petanque, Sepak Takraw, tennis, table tennis, indoor volleyball and Wushu begin their quests to bring glory to the Kingdom.

The swimming, athletics and mountain bike teams will start their competitions on Saturday, while Cambodia’s International boxing, dancing and beach volleyball athletes will compete on Sunday. The triathlon team and Cambodia’s heroine, Ju-Jitsu artist Jessa Khan, will compete across all three days to find medals, with Wushu also using the same three-day competition format.

The match schedules posted on the official website of the SEA Games 2021 in Hanoi have not yet revealed details of their opponents.

Jessa Khan will compete in the 48kg category on Friday and Mab Sok Houy in the 45kg on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the knockout semi-finals, from which the winner will compete for gold in the final, held the same day.

A 2018 Asian Games gold medalist, Khan is confident she will be able to take gold for the Kingdom again to add to her first SEA Games gold medal, earned in the Philippines in 2019.

When asked whether she was well-prepared and ready to compete for gold again, she said: “Yes, I am always ready. It’s my third time competing for Cambodia and my second time at the SEA Games. I am super excited, especially as my dad is here to coach me.”

Before returning for the SEA Games in Hanoi, the Cambodian Ju-Jitsu star also won a gold medal – her first major black belt title – at the 2022 IBJJF Pan Championships in Kissimmee, in the US state of Florida, in April. She admitted it was a competitive warm-up for her and she has very much improved since her previous SEA Games.

“I’m definitely better. Every year you try to improve and you always want the best for yourself. Now I am 20 and I am a totally different competitor than what I was. Now I am a black belt and I have gained a lot of experience so I am more prepared for this tournament than ever and I am super excited,” she said.