Pétanque is perhaps the most important sport for Cambodians ahead of others such as football, and they take their opportunities very seriously even during regional tournaments such as the AUG.
Pétanque is a form of boules that originated in the early 20th century in La Ciotat, Provence, France. The sport was introduced to the French colonies of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1950s.
Since then, Cambodia has one of the best track records in pétanque in the region, with a respectable haul of medals in the last four SEA Games. Also, the kingdom has one of the best players in SEA Games and World Women’s Pétanque Champion Ke Leng.
The AUG is also one of the arenas for Cambodia to test themselves in pétanque. At the last AUG in Palembang, Cambodia’s pétanque team did themselves proud in the pits by winning two silvers at Palembang
The duo of Sem Menglong and Chhin Srey Pich won the mixed pétanque doubles silver, while their counterparts Sun Kunthea and Khoun Yary snagged the women’s pétanque doubles silver.
While the sport is getting popular in Cambodia, Khmer athletes faces stronger competition from regional rivals such as Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
At the last AUG in Palembang, Thailand emerged with the most gold medals in the sport, while host nation Indonesia snagged a women’s singles gold and men’s double silver.
Another challenge is the dearth of money available for pétanque in Cambodia – government support for this unique bowls sport is limited as the country is focused on other priorities such as economic and social development.
Despite the odds, Cambodia’s AUG team can certainly feel that they have made improvements since the start of the decade – their medal record in Palembang was, an improvement on their 2012 outing in Vientiane where they only won 3 pétanque bronze medals.
These medals were also significant as they helped Cambodia to finish above Brunei and Timor-Leste in the overall standings.
One prominent AUG pétanque player who has performed for Cambodia is Chhin Srey Pich. The AUG in Palembang was not her first outing representing her country – Srey Pich had also participated in the 16th AUG in Vientiane where she won a bronze in a mixed triples event for her country.
Arguably, the experience of finishing only with a bronze has spurred her to do better in her sport– at the 2013 SEA Games she worked her way to a silver in a mixed triples event, while her 2014 performance with Sem Menglong earned them a respectable second place finish.
Certainly, such competitive performances by the country’s young athletes in an important regional tournament such as the AUG will help to sustain Cambodians’ interest in pétanque, especially among the country’s youth.
The next opportunity for these athletes to do their seniors and country proud will be at the pétanque courts at Toa Payoh Sports Centre in July. It will be a fierce regional showdown, and nothing less than a haul of golds will do for Cambodia.