Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

SEA Games Conclude with Cambodia Winning the Third Most Medals

Cambodian boxer Khun Bora (red) spars with Vietnamese fighter Cao Minh Phat Truong in the SEA Games’ Kun Khmer semi-finals on May 9, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Cambodian boxer Khun Bora (red) spars with Vietnamese fighter Cao Minh Phat Truong in the SEA Games’ Kun Khmer semi-finals on May 9, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

As the Cambodia-hosted Southeast Asia Games conclude, the Kingdom ranked fourth in gold medals and third in medals overall, winning big in Kun Khmer and earning first-time gold medals in swimming events.

By the closing ceremony of the 23rd SEA Games on Wednesday, Cambodia had won 282 medals — 81 gold medals, 74 silvers and 127 bronzes.

Prime Minister Hun Sen applauded the athletes’ efforts, noting in a Wednesday Facebook post that in the 1999 games Cambodia had placed 10th and had not won a single medal. 

“This is an achievement as a whole nation’s effort to stand up in building the nation and sport sector,” Hun Sen wrote. 

Out of the 11 countries competing in the games, Vietnam ranked first with 355 medals, including 136 gold and 105 silver medals. Thailand ranked second with 312 medals, of which 108 were gold. Third-place Indonesia received 276 medals, according to the SEA Games’ official website

Cambodia won 14 gold medals in Kun Khmer, competing against six other countries, along with 10 gold medals for Vietnamese martial arts form vovinam, and six golds in kick-boxing.  

Kun Khmer boxer Tit Sorphorn, who has been training in the sport for more than 20 years, told CamboJA that he was very excited after receiving a gold medal on behalf of Cambodia at the SEA Games.

“It is a great honor for the nation’s reputation in Kun Khmer,” he said.

Heng Sokhorn, secretary general of the Cambodia Kickboxing Federation, thanked government leaders for paying attention to the financial needs of his organization, which also has plans to compete in Europe and China later this year. 

“It was very proud for the nation and Cambodian people that we have never thought that our boxing federation can earn…gold medals,” Sokhorn said. “We have skillful trainers — the boxers have good discipline and enough equipment to train.”

Cambodian athlete Riem Sokphirom also earned a gold medal in Teqball, defeating Indonesian star Yoga Ardika.

“After winning a gold medal in this sport, I feel very excited and honored as I am standing right here among tens of millions of people witnessing this historical day and event and I have made my country and my families proud,” he said.

Sokphirom was already well known as lead singer for the musical group SmallWorld SmallBand, but said that becoming a top teqball player was a great challenge. After successfully applying to the Teqball Federation of Cambodia, he received intensive training with a professional coach. He had already experience in Sepak Takraw, a kind of kick volleyball sport, which helped prepare him for Teqball, a sport similar to table tennis but with feet instead of paddles.

“I just knew it would only be a short time before deciding to join in as an athlete,” he said. “And because the Teqball table had not yet been not sent [until February 2023], I always checked it on YouTube to know how it is played, and the differences between it and previous sports I played.”

To improve his skills, he sacrificed his musical opportunities in the several months leading up to the SEA Games.

“I had always trained myself with kicking the ball upon waking, and I tried to arrange a flexible schedule as I had several music events to play in, but I could not attend most of them because I wanted to make myself free for training,” added Sokphirom, who plans to continue competing in other international Teqball competitions.

There was drama during the football competition, after several Thai players and coaching staff initiated a brawl with the Indonesian bench during the final match, after Indonesia scored its third goal to pull ahead. Security guards struggled to halt the fighting as both sides exchanged blows and left a member of the Thai coaching squad bleeding.

Indonesia ultimately defeated Thailand five goals to two in the finals on Tuesday.

FA Thailand on Wednesday issued a statement to express regret and condemns to their football teams that use violence. 

The Thai football team competes with Indonesia in the final match which turned violent on May 16, 2023. (SEA Games 2023’s Facebook)

Cambodia had hoped to advance further in the football competition and general Sao Sokha announced his resignation as president of the Football Federation of Cambodia after the U-22 men’s team failed to reach the semi-finals.

But, by the next day, Sokha had backtracked his decision following intervention from Hun Sen, requesting he continue to lead the federation. 

“I was accepted back after appeals from Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] and football compatriots that I continue to lead Football Federation of Cambodia,” read his statement.

Cambodia Swimming Federation coach Hem Thonponleu made history by winning two gold medals in swimming events for the first time, including a gold medal in finswimming, after spending four months intensively training in Vietnam. The federation’s athletes won seven medals in total.

“I feel very excited for my athletes after winning two gold medals as we had never won before,” Thonponleu said. “We have profound pride for their sacrifice and for the success of our nation. We will keep improving our capacity for future events.”

Underpinning the games were a cohort of more than 7,000 volunteers

Their “energy and determination has contributed to the great successes of the whole games so far,” the official volunteers Facebook page posted. “Their capacities for dealing with specific duties, depending on their age and skills, were vital during the games to keep the events [SEA Games] organized. 

Cambodian basketball team receives a silver medal after losing to the Philippines in the finals on May 16, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)