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Humble start for badminton hero

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Phorn Chenda (left) shows off her gold medal in July. CHHORN NORN

Humble start for badminton hero

From provincial girl who could not afford a uniform or sneakers to play to national representative, Phorn Chenda’s story is a lesson in determination.

Originally from Boeung Kuk village and commune of Kampong Cham town and province, Chenda started playing sports to keep fit in 2016, when she was in grade 7. Encouragement from her family and friends – and notably Huot Vutty, head of the Kampong Cham provincial Sports League – led to a rapid improvement in her badminton skills.

In less than a year, she had gone from a casual player of the game to one of her province’s outstanding athletes. After representing Kampong Cham in the 2017 national badminton Championships, she was selected to train with the national team.

“My main obstacle in participating in the sport was that I didn’t have the money to buy expensive sports equipment. I wore jeans and a school shirt to play in my first competitions! Once I began to win prize money, I was able to buy the things I needed to make me even more competitive,” she said.

Despite these challenges, Chenda never showed any reluctance to train as hard as she could. When she earned the chance to join the national team in 2017, she pushed herself even harder. She also began to think about what the sport could do for her.

“I was very focused on badminton when I joined the national team. I worked extremely hard to improve my skills, and since then I have won gold, silver and bronze medals in various events,” she said.

“It is a great honour for me to play for the Kingdom. Thanks to the sport I can support my studies and save some money for my family – especially my younger brother Phon Seng Hour, who also plays badminton. My father, Phorn Meng Hong, and mother, Houy Ieng Leang, also all love the game,” added the 22-year-old.

Chenda has competed in tournaments in Malaysia and Australia, as well as the 31st SEA Games 2021 in Vietnam which was held in May this year, but has yet to win an international tournament.

After failing to break out of the qualifying rounds in all three competitions, Chenda acknowledged that there were weaknesses in Cambodian badminton.

“We aren’t yet at their level. They tend to have trained from a very young age, whereas we picked the sport up ourselves and only started receiving guidance when we were much older. This meant that some of us have some bad habits which can be exploited on the court. We are working on identifying them and eliminating these issues, but it is difficult,” she said.

With that being said, Chenda – who recently claimed double’s gold alongside Leng Davy at the national badminton championship in July this year – promised that she would work hard to strengthen her skills.

She hopes to claim silver at next year’s SEA Games, which will be hosted by Cambodia for the first time.

“I’m not going to set my sights on gold because I don’t think my ability is quite there, and I want. To be realistic. I am going to work very hard and dedicate all of my free time to the pursuit of silver,” she said.

Chenda will be heading to China for a long period of intense training in the near future, and believes that training in a nation with a reputation in the sport like China’s will give her the skills she needs to claim a medal for the Kingdom.

“I want to leave a legacy for the nation. I have won many domestic medals, but never from abroad. This is my motivation for the SEA Games,” she added.

Although Chenda is only 22 years old, she is aware that the clock is ticking on her international career. As a second-year law student, she expects to give up national duties when she graduates.

Chenda said she may be employed at the Badminton Federation of Kampong Cham after she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in about two years.

She claimed that she would not give up badminton completely, despite having a full-time job.

“Even though I will step down from the national team, and my strength will decline as I grow older, I will not give up on the sport that has given me so much,” she said.

“I will take some time to help train young players in the province because I love the game and want to expand it. Badminton gave me the opportunity to attend university, and I want the youngsters of my province to have the same chance,” she added.

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