Cambodia’s national wrestling team broke the 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 gold medal in nearly 10 years.
The team set its performance benchmark when it participated in the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and won four gold, two silver and four bronze medals. The four gold medals were won by Don Sao and Kao Cheng in the men’s 120 kg and 84 kg categories, and Chov Sotheara and Ni Samnang in the women’s 44 kg and 63 kg events. This remains the highest point in the teams’ match history.
Wrestling, however, was not included in the lineup for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore or the 2017 games in Malaysia. Coming back from wrestling at the Games – in the Philippines in 2019 – the Cambodian team couldn’t stand on the first or second step of the podium and went home with only five bronze medals.
In the ongoing games in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, the Cambodian team finished their campaign – in 16 weight classes – and finished with one gold, one silver and four bronze, a result significantly better than ‘in the Phillippines.
Cambodian-Iranian Sou Bali became the first wrestler to win gold for the Kingdom in nearly a decade after the 125kg freestyle practitioner defeated his Vietnamese foe 10-0 and then beat a Lao wrestler on the same score.
The silver medal was won by Cambodian-Iranian Mo Sari in the 97 kg freestyle category. After losing to a wrestler from host country Vietnam in the first round, he managed to fight his way past his next opponent – from the Philippines – and claim 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 during games and will return home empty-handed.
The only gold medal won means that the team did not reach the target set by the Cambodia Wrestling Federation. National team coach Kang Den Piseth said ahead of the start of the event that the federation had set itself the goal of winning 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 fierce competition, we won one gold, one silver and four bronze. These victories are the result of the phenomenal hard work of our athletes.
“In particular, we have to remember that they were training during the Covid-19 closures. They were far from their families, wives and children, but they endured the isolation and overcame all their difficulties to win these six medals for the Kingdom. We are very satisfied with our results,” he added.