Two years ago at the Manila SEA Games, Sreang Virak was left devastated after a heartbreaking loss in the quarter-finals of the below 75kg men’s kumite competition.
The crestfallen Sreang was edged out 1-2 and a place in the semi-finals by Filipino Ivan Christopher Agustin.
Two years on, a much heavier Sreang can now stand proud as an Asian champion. Last week, Sreang stunned a strong field at the South East Asia Karate Federation (SEAKF) Championships at the Royal University of Phnom Penh to clinch Cambodia’s solitary gold at the championships.
Sreang, who has moved up to the below 84kg category, started his campaign with a win over Indonesia’s Claudio Nenobesi Fernando in the semi-finals and went on to beat fancied Katish Gnanasekaran in the final for the elusive gold medal.
Ironically, Agustin, his conqueror at the Manila SEA Games, finished with another bronze in the below 75kg category at the championships.
“I’m very proud to win the gold medal. I know my opponent well, and thus I knew what I should do against him. He’s quick, but I was able to deal with his pace,” said Sreang.
His gold medal effort helped the host nation finish fourth overall in the standings with one gold, one silver and five bronze medals.
“It was a tough match. Being in a final my opponent was indeed really tough. I needed to stay focused especially on my technical aspects,” said Sreang.
The lanky karateka will have no time to rest on his laurels. He will resume his training immediately to prepare for the Vietnam SEA Games in May, as he targets another big flourish.
“I’m ready for SEA Games. I will keep working hard every day to win a medal for Cambodia at the SEA Games and hopefully in Cambodia in 2023,” he added.
There is no doubt that the win at the championships has put Sreang as a favourite in Vietnam, with his potential opponents eyeing his scalp.
“At SEA Games, I will face tough opposition, so I need to work hard and continue to train,” said Sreang.
Meanwhile, Vietnam finished as overall champions at the SEAKF Championships, taking home a total of 13 medals, including five gold, five silver and three bronze medals.
Indonesia won more medals with a haul of fourteen medals, but had to settle for second place on countback, winning only three silver medals. The Indonesians also brought home five gold and six bronze medals.
Malaysia finished with a haul of five gold, three silver and four bronze medals, to finish third overall.
Much to the surprise of everyone, Thailand failed to win a single gold medal, finishing behind Cambodia with three silver and six bronze medals to show.
The Philippines bagged one silver and two bronze medals, while Laos won two bronze medals. Singapore and Brunei returned empty-handed.
-- by Sophak Huy
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