Cambodia to send three athletes to Tokyo Olympics despite pandemic

People walk past the Olympic Rings near the new National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan on July 8, 2021.

PHNOM PENH-- Cambodia's three elite athletes will represent the Southeast Asian nation in the Tokyo Olympic Games, sports officials said on Thursday.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, said the trio include swimmers Hem Puch, 22, and Khoeun Bunpich Morakad, 17, and one runner, Pen Sokong, 28.

"The two swimmers will compete in the 50-meter freestyle, and the runner will race in the 100-meter dash," he told Xinhua. "They participate in the Games via wild cards."

In the Olympics, a wild card is a slot awarded to a country or a region that does not go through the qualification stage. Usually, countries or regions that participate via a wild card are only allowed to compete in a limited number of disciplines.

Chamroeun said the Tokyo Olympics truly reflects the spirit of friendship and solidarity among nations during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

"Although only three of our athletes are going to take part in the Games, this participation demonstrates the spirit of the Olympic movement in Cambodia," he said. "The Games show our unity as one to fight against the pandemic and it will also send a message of hope, peace and unity of humanity during and after the pandemic crisis."

Hem Kiry, secretary general of the Khmer Swimming Federation, said that Hem Puch currently holds a personal best of 24.92 seconds for the 50-meter freestyle swim and Khoeun Bunpich Morakad has a best time of 29.99 seconds over the same distance.

"It will be their first time contesting the Olympics, and we hope that they will achieve good results, breaking their current records," he told Xinhua.

Kiry said that despite the pandemic, they had been training hard during the last three months at the National Olympic Stadium and the Morodok Techo National Sports Complex in Phnom Penh, swimming around 16 kilometers per day.

   He added that they trained around six hours a day from Monday through Saturday, and they were required to stay at the training center without going home to prevent COVID-19 infection.

"We hope the results will reflect their determination and endeavor, and if we say about expectation for winning medals, it is still difficult because elite swimmers from China, Japan, the United States, and Australia, among others will also take part in the contest," he said.

 Speaking to Xinhua before leaving for the Games, Pen Sokong said he was looking forward to competing in the 100-meter race, saying that his current national record is 10.87 seconds.

"It will be my first time contesting the Olympics, and I hope I will be able to set a new record for myself because I have trained hard since early this year," he told Xinhua.

Sokong added that he trained in Beijing for five months in 2017 prior to the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia. 

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