Sorn Seavmey spent most of the past year preparing for the Asian Games in South Korea, where she won Cambodia’s first-ever gold medal earlier this month. But Ms. Seavmey has also been quietly training for another form of combat.
Three months ago, with little fanfare, the 19-year-old taekwondo star became one of 100 new recruits into the Ministry of Interior’s Special Bodyguard Unit, following two years of training as a cadet, Touch Naruth, the unit’s director, said Wednesday.
Lieutenant General Naruth explained that the unit actively seeks people with martial arts training, and has seven recruits with strong backgrounds in taekwondo or karate, including Ms. Seavmey’s siblings Sorn Davin and Sorn Elit.
“We don’t need to train them much, because they have experience in martial arts and they can train other officers,” Lt. Gen. Naruth said.
“If we have four or five like her, they can train 95 other officers,” he added.
After a two-year training period, members of the bodyguard unit are assigned to protect high-ranking officials and international delegations, Lt. Gen. Naruth said.
“Her height is important because we need to protect the high-ranking officials,” he said.
Ms. Seavmey, who returned a national hero after winning the gold medal in the women’s under-73kg in Incheon, said her taekwondo skills had aided her in training as a bodyguard.
“It was simple for me because I have experience in martial arts, and it’s not particularly different,” said Ms. Seavmey, who towers above most Cambodian men at 1.8 meters tall.
The Sorn siblings are not the only high-profile martial arts athletes to be recruited into the unit. Dun Samphors, a karate black belt who competed in the 2013 SEA Games in Burma, has also become a bodyguard.
“We train four or five days a week at the bodyguard department at the Interior Ministry,” Mr. Samphors said. “We are trained how to run, to protect guests, and to build up our body strength.”
As well as physical exercises, the unit receives training in handling firearms. Suon Chanthy, the mother of the Sorn siblings, said she was initially worried about her daughter using guns, but had come around to the idea.
“I was worried about her when it came to handling guns, although I also want my daughter to get a job as a public official when she is older and cannot play sports,” said Ms. Chanthy, who raised Ms. Seavmey and her five siblings in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district.
Despite welcoming her daughter’s recruitment into the bodyguard unit, Ms. Chanthy said Wednesday she was worried that Ms. Seavmey would struggle to juggle taekwondo, her bodyguard training and her studies.
Prime Minister Hun Sen gave Ms. Seavmey an automatic pass in her grade 12 exam after she won her gold medal. She intends to study law, but has not decided on a university.
“I am worried, because she will have to work very hard, but I’m also happy, because I never thought the family would become what we are today,” Ms. Chanthy added.
Lt. Gen. Naruth said Ms. Seavmey’s busy schedule would be accommodated during her bodyguard training.
“We will offer time for her to study and train in taekwondo because she has to be ready for the Olympics in Brazil in two years,” he said.