After the completion of the games in 2009 in Vientiane, support for sports development in Lao has practically ground to a halt. Internationally funded coaches (both Lao and foreign) that previously provided structured programs for Lao athletes training for the games have returned to their home countries or stopped coaching due to the discontinuation of funding. Sports facilities built for the games have also started to deteriorate as maintenance costs can no longer be met. As a result several athletes who were able to compete at an elite level at the SEA Games are now in a state of limbo, with no facilities, coaches or competitions and hence little motivation to continue pursuing their sporting dreams.
However, the Laos’ Middle Distance Athletic Squad is an extremely dedicated group of athletes. The squad consists of 4 girls and 6 boys. Disciplines range from 800m to 10km. All 10 athletes are aged in between 15 and 24 years. Despite limited facilities and the few competitions in own country, all athletes have continued training a minimum of 5 times a week, with some training up to 8 times a week.
I began voluntarily working with the Lao athletes after the completion of the SEA Games. Besides the coaching of these athletes, I started together with Emma to look for sponsors to take the squad to the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon which was held in Cambodia on December 5th, 2010. After raising more than $4000, 7 athletes traveled to Cambodia. The experience was a phenomenal success.
Lao Squad and coaches after Angkor Wat race
The Arafura Games is the leading international sporting competition for emerging athletes from the Asia Pacific region. Held every two years in Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, the Arafura Games features many different sporting disciplines including athletics. The event is as much about cultural integration as the sports themselves, with the games being billed as a ‘meeting of sporting neighbors’. The next Arafura Games will be held between 7-14 May of 2011. It is a great opportunity for some of the athletes of the Lao squad to continue fulfilling their sportive ambitions and become leading sports ambassadors of their country. Therefore Emma and I are looking again for donors to allow for 6 athletes to participate in the Arafura Games. Two athletes are expected to participate in the 5.000 meters race, another two will race the 800 meters and the remaining two will represent Laos in the half marathon. Expected costs to take 6 athletes to the Arafura Games are 3000 US$ (6 athletes a 500 US$ per athlete). The management of the donations will be done by INGO Village Focus International.
And now: would you like to support Lao Athletes to compete at the Arafura Games?
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Lao Team about to go out for pre-race dinner (left to right) – Emma Zalcman (coach), Mr. Sengkeo Sengsuritoa, Mr. Bountom Glorkham, Ms. Souvanhy Phengthijack, Ms. Souksavanh Malivanh, Ms. Touly Phengphalung, Ms. Khout Keo MuenKot, Mr. Sysavath Thammavongchit, Mr Alex Van De Meer (Coach)
When Ya (19) and Souk (19) travelled to Siem Reap last Friday they had no intention of winning the 15th Angkor Wat International 10 Km running race. But after running 32’12” and 38’26” respectively, they did not only win one of the most popular races in the South Asian running calendar, they also set new course records in both the men and the women category. Starting at 6.40 AM last Sunday 5 December 2010 in front of Angkor Wat temple, both Lao runners dominated their respective races in a course that offers fantastic views of historical temples and lush jungle.
Angkor Podium 10 Km 2010 1st - Ms. Souksavanh Malivanh 2nd – Ms Koh Leng Leng (Singapore) 3rd - Ms. Touly Phengphalung
Souk’s victory is a new 10 Km national record and provides additional motivation during her preparation for the upcoming SEA student Games in Chiang Mai, where she will represent Lao PDR in the Womens 1500m. Toly (15) accompanied Souk on the podium after she ran in 40’17”, to finish 3rd. Toly is the current national champion in the 800 meters. In this same race Khout (15) and Souvanhy (15) ended impressively to come 5th and 7th respectively.
Ya, who represented Laos last year during the SEA Games in Vientiane, and about whom I wrote some posts ago, improved his personal best by more than 2 minutes in Angkor Wat International 10 Km. In the same race Tom (23) ran 34’15”, taking him to the 4th position. In the half marathon race Seng (24), who holds the national record in the marathon (and about whom I already wrote in a previous post) had injury concerns after the 14th Km when he was still running in the 4th position. Despite the problems during the race, and a difficult preparation towards Angkor (Seng suffered from Malaria – thanks doctor Cecile for your help), Seng ran the half marathon in a strong 1h. 25’.
Podium Angkor 2010 10 Km Men 1st - Mr. Sysavath Thammavongchit, 2nd – Alex 3rd – Mr Leroy Vial (Expatriate friend residing in Vientiane)
The team was accompanied by Emma a group of expatriate running enthusiasts living in Vientiane who offered considerable financial support to the athletes and myself. Financial assistance was also provided by Joma, The Laos Elephants Football Club and Athletics Essendon (an Australian Athletics Club).
All runners of the Lao middle and long distance squad will participate in the Lao-Singapore Charity Run, which will be held next Saturday in Vientiane. This race is the only opportunity that these runners have this year to compete in a road race in their own country. This forces them to look for competitions overseas to keep developing their sport careers.
Laos Team warming up. From Left to Right - Mr. Bountom Glorkham, Ms. Souksavanh Malivanh, Ms. Touly Phengphalung, Ms. Khout Keo MuenKot, Mr. Sengkeo Sengsuritoa
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