Cambodian taekwondo champion Sorn Seavmey received a hero’s welcome when she returned home to Phnom Penh from South Korea on Sunday night with her country’s first ever Asian Games gold medal.
Ms. Seavmey defeated fighters from Uzbekistan, Iran and the Philippines to take the women’s under-73kg gold.
As she stepped off the plane from Incheon late Sunday night, a teary-eyed Ms. Seavmey was greeted by hundreds of reporters and cheering fans before being driven in a government convoy to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Peace Palace to meet the prime minister himself.
“I feel so surprised that so many people have come to receive me. I am speechless now, but I want to say that Cambodia is not weak,” Ms. Seavmey said after disembarking at Phnom Penh International Airport.
At the Peace Palace, Mr. Hun Sen rained praise on the country’s new golden girl and announced the Ministry of Education would provide her with an automatic pass for the baccalaureate exam she recently failed.
“Today, tonight, our Cambodian nation has great pride that never existed in the past,” the prime minister said.
“So far, we have won just six medals in 60 years, which means that on average, we win a medal every ten years, but the most important thing is that in 2014, we won a gold medal brought by Ms. Sorn Seavmey,” he said, adding that if a Cambodian ever wins gold in the Olympics, he or she would be honored with a convoy including 12 motorbikes, double the number that escorted Ms. Seavmey from the airport.
Speaking at a press conference at the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) Monday morning, Ms. Seavmey spoke of her surprise at winning gold.
“I doubted my ability [before the games] but because of the support of our people and sponsors, I became what I am today,” she said.
“I wanted to fly the Cambodian flag higher than any other [country] and wanted everyone to hear the national anthem so everyone would know Cambodia,” she said, adding that her eyes are now set on Rio de Janeiro, the site of the next Summer Olympics in 2016.
Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the NOCC, said Ms. Seavmey’s historic victory was years in the making.
“We set up a strategic plan in 2010 to get at least one medal in the Asian Games 2014 in order to continue to develop the sports field,” he said.
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