Asean School Games: Youngest runner is disappointed, but taking it in her stride

Cambodia's 13-year-old Choronei Ngoun (far right), the youngest runner in yesterday's 3,000m girls' final at the Asean Schools Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand, aims to win a medal at the 2023 SEA Games.
Cambodia's 13-year-old Choronei Ngoun (far right), the youngest runner in yesterday's 3,000m girls' final at the Asean Schools Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand, aims to win a medal at the 2023 SEA Games. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Just 13 years old, Cambodian runner Choronei Ngoun stands at 1.5m tall ("But only for now!" she insists) and, with her scrawny frame, was easily the smallest and youngest of the five competitors at the 3,000m final of the 8th Asean School Games (ASG) yesterday morning.

Still, her age and size did not deter her from wanting to win a medal at her first ASG outing.

So when Choronei finished in last place with a time of 14:00.46sec, almost three minutes behind second-last runner Bui Thi Mai from Vietnam, the teenager was crushed.

As she sat on the grass after her race, gazing at the track despondently, Malaysia's athletics team manager Entheran Subramaniam walked past and did a double-take.

Flashing young Choronei a thumbs-up, Entheran told her: "Good run. How old are you?"

She said: "I'm 13 years old."

Entheran replied: "Well done. Keep going."

Minutes later, a Vietnamese athlete walked past, smiled and flashed another thumbs-up.

Choronei may have finished last, but she won new fans on the first day of the ASG track and field competition at Chiang Mai's 700th Anniversary Sports Complex.

And their admiration for the youngster is well-deserved, given that she only started running competitively this March.

Off the track, Choronei is every bit the lively and talkative young teenager with an ever-ready smile.

Her training garb is simple - a plain T-shirt and leggings, and spiked shoes purchased from a roadside market in Cambodia - because finding shoes that fit her size 37 feet is not easy.

There is no time for fun and games for the Methodist School of Cambodia student as she works towards her ultimate goal - winning a medal at the 2023 SEA Games hosted by her country.

But a dejected Choronei was unable to get her bad race out of her head, saying: "The race was not good; my timing was very bad today, so I have to train harder so that I do better next year."

But the Phnom Penh resident, who clocked 13.25min in May to become Cambodia's provincial 3,000m champion, cheered up after posting a personal best in the 800m race later in the afternoon.

Although her time of 2:48.94min meant she finished last, Choronei was upbeat, saying: "It's my first time running the 800m event (in competition) and my time is better than I've clocked during training."

The wide smile returning to her face, Choronei added: "I'm still young and my opponents today were all older than me, so I still have time to work harder for a medal."

Cambodia's athletics coach Sareth Choung, who stood trackside with a stopwatch during Choronei's races, was positive about her prospects as Cambodia's future champion.

"Choronei is small, but she has the potential to be a SEA Games medallist," he said. "Hopefully, that will happen in 2023."

Team Singapore's athletes ended the day with two silver medals through Tia Louise Rozario (long jump) and Celeste Goh (400m hurdles).

The Republic's other ASG athletes contributed more medals yesterday, with gymnastics, table tennis and swimming bagging a total of four golds.

Gymnasts Nadine Joy Nathan and Tan Sze En each each won a gold in the individual apparatus events, while team-mate Kiera Lau finished second. Paddlers Linda Zeng and Monica Koh won the girls' doubles gold, and the girls' badminton team emerged second runner-up.

Swimmer Maximillian Ang won the 200m medley to clinch the sport's second gold of the meet. The swimmers also collected two silvers and three bronzes yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Youngest runner is disappointed, but taking it in her stride'. Print Edition | Subscribe