Phnom Penh (dpa) – Cambodia will watch with bated breath on Saturday as Sorn Seavmey begins her first round in the women’s 67-kg Taekwondo competition as she could become their first athlete to win an Olympic medal.
The 20 year-old has already made history as the first Cambodian to qualify for the Olympics through competition, a source of great pride for her family.
“I am so proud of her, when I see that many people support her and she’s the first person who was be able to go to the Olympics herself,” Sorn Elit, Seavmey’s brother, told dpa on Wednesday.
Competing at the Olympics has been a dream for Seavmey, who began practicing Taekwondo just four years ago, according to Elit. “She was nervous before she went to the Olympics, but she had to go because the Olympics is her goal and dream.”
On Saturday morning in Rio, Seavmey will face off against the Netherland’s Reshmie Oogink in 16 rounds of contact. The victor will continue into the finals the same day, with medal competitions for gold, silver and bronze held at night.
Seavmey became one of Cambodia’s most popular athletes after she won a gold medal – Cambodia’s first ever – at the Asian Games in South Korea in 2014 and another gold at the Southeast Asia Games in Myanmar in 2013.
Her choice of taekwondo, a Korean martial art, is unusual in a country best known for kickboxing and football, but she has been embraced by the public.
Seavmey’s success has won her the public praise of Prime Minister Hun Sen and an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni after her victory in South Korea. She’s also amassed a following of 1.4 million on her official Facebook page, which is full of messages from well-wishers.
“You’re a gold metal for us (Cambodians). Thank you for making Cambodia known throughout the world,” wrote user Seng Sy under a video of a Seavmey practicing in Rio posted on her Facebook page.
Seavmey travelled to Rio with five other Cambodian athletes, who competed in swimming, wrestling, and the women’s marathon. This is only the ninth summer Olympics for the small Southeast Asian country, which first participatedin the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
However, Cambodia did not compete for 24 years after 1972 in Munich because of a long-running civil war, returning to the summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.