Wrestlers take first gold but fail to achieve games’ goals

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian-Iranian wrestler Sou Bali (top centre) and his teammates and leaders of the Wrestling Federation of Cambodia pose for a photo with their medal haul of one gold, one silver and four bronze on May 19. CAMSOC

Cambodia's national wrestling team broke their deadlock on May 19 to win a gold medal at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Vietnam. The win was the Kingdom’s first wrestling gold in almost 10 years.

The team set their performance benchmark when they participated in the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and won four gold, two silver and four bronze medals. The four golds were won by Don Sao and Kao Cheng in the men’s 120kg and 84kg categories, and Chov Sotheara and Ni Samnang in the women’s 44kg and 63kg events. This remains the highest point in the teams’ games’ history.

Wrestling was not included, however, in the lineup of the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore or the 2017 games in Malaysia. Upon wrestling’s return to the games – in the Philippines in 2019 – the Cambodian team was unable to stand on the top or second steps of the podium, and returned home with just five bronzes.

At the ongoing games in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, the Cambodian team completed their campaign – in 16 weight classes – and finished with one gold, one silver and four bronze medals, a substantially better result than they achieved in the Philippines.

Cambodian-Iranian Sou Bali became the first wrestler to win gold for the Kingdom in nearly a decade after the 125kg freestyle wrestling practitioner defeated his Vietnamese foe 10-0 and went on to beat a Lao wrestler by the same score.

The silver medal was earned by Cambodian-Iranian Mo Sari in the freestyle 97kg class. After losing to a wrestler from host country Vietnam in the first round, he was able to find a way past his next opponent – from the Philippines – and earn silver.

Dith Samnang, Chea Kanha, Soeun Sopheas and Heng Vuthy all won bronze medals in their respective freestyle categories.

Former three-time gold medalist Don Sao – along with teammates Keo Sopheak, Eng Seng Leang, Nguon Makara, Yun Bunna, Chun Thuon, Ol Sao Heang, Soeun Noeun and Sambath Vannak – failed to make an impression at the games and will return home empty-handed.

The single gold medal earned means that the team has not achieved the goal set by the Wrestling Federation of Cambodia. National team coach Kang Den Piseth said before the event began that the federation had set the goal of grabbing at least two gold medals at the 31st SEA Games.

Casey Barnett, vice-president of the federation and head of the wrestling delegation at the games, said: “After three days of hard competition, we won one gold, one silver and four bronze medals. These wins came thanks to the phenomenal hard work of our athletes.”

“In particular, we should remember that they were training during the Covid-19 lockdowns. They were away from their families, wives and children, but they endured the isolation and overcame all of their difficulties to win these six medals for the Kingdom. We are very happy with our results,” he added.