Training for Vovinam has been tense in recent months as athletes prepare to win more medals at the upcoming SEA Games in Phnom Penh.
Athletes throw powerful punches and kicks during a training session on the third floor of the National Sports Training Center near the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. Others warm themselves up, flying over a soft mattress and practice performance with swords.
Sok Nidanut, 20, smiles as she prepares her sword to perform Vovinam, a martial art created by neighboring Vietnam.
Nidanut is from Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district and is the eldest daughter of three sisters. She is also attending a journalism course.
“I am very excited because this SEA Games will be my first time so I expect I will do well,” she said during a recent interview. “For my first SEA Games, I am strongly ready in terms of my health because without good health, we can’t win over anyone.
“First, we must win ourselves, so we do whatever to make ourselves strong so that we can train enough as set out by our trainers.”
Nidanut said that the training is intense now as the country nears hosting the 32nd SEA Games in May for the first time in 60 years. “We need enough time to relax and time to help recover our muscles,” she said.
With the help of Vietnamese trainers, athletes attend three training sessions per day that last between two and 2.5 hours.
Nidanut added as part of preparations for the games, she needs to eat good quality food and avoid canned drinks. As part of the SEA Games’ rules, athletes will also be tested for doping and for her, she likes to read books during free time to be more focused.
Nidanut will compete in three events, a performance with a sword and without it, and in a group with swords.
What she is worried about is that since Vovinam originated in Vietnam, the athletes from there will be hard to compete against.
With support from her father who loves the sport. Nidanut is also a student at the Department of Media and Communication (DMC) and she aspires to write a motivational book after she graduates.
“I am now an athlete and what I focus on is the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia,” she said when asked if she will become a journalist. “I hope many Cambodian people will participate and sports don’t discriminate, sports live in peace.”
Nidanut’s mother is a vendor and her father is a car driver. Nidanut’s interests have always been in sports. She started swimming for about a year and then tried different sports before becoming interested in Vovinam in 2015.
Nidanut will compete in the performance category, the category she likes because she said it is gentle, special and beautiful, and athletes can choose to perform individually and in groups, with or without swords.
Vovinam was introduced to Cambodia in 2009, but its popularity was not large, said Pov Sokha, a Vovinam veteran who has won several medals, including some gold.
Sokha began training in 2011 and Vovinam went on to form a federation, as well as athletes for the national team.
Cambodia began sending Vovinam athletes to compete in SEA Games in 2017 and has won multiple medals, raising the profile of the sport. Cambodia went on to compete at a world Vovinam championship in India, winning more gold medals, further propelling its popularity among home audiences and the government.
With more prize money, the sport grew again in popularity, Sokha said, adding that more private clubs for Vovinam started opening. By 2018, its popularity was rapidly expanding.
Sokha, 25, feels proud and excited because this time, Cambodia is hosting the SEA Games and she is ready for the competitions and to win more medals for the country.
This is her 12th year competing in Vovinam and she believes her experience in regional and world competitions have equipped her with the skills to win.
Sokha began competing in 2011 and in 2019, she won two gold medals and three bronzes. In addition, she also won three bronze medals during the 31st SEA Games in 2021 in Vietnam.
She said she learned lessons during the last Games and is confident in her performance to win gold in Cambodia. Sokha will compete in a performance category in three different events, as an individual and as a group.
Sokha also urged the population to do more sports and watch the upcoming SEA Games. “We are ready for the games so we need your noise to cheer for us,” Sokha said.