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© Pete Ford
© Pete Ford
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How Cambodia Produced World Class Champions by Playing Petanque

Picture of Peter Ford
Updated: 27 September 2017
Petanque, or boules, is a French variant of bowling. Brought to Cambodia by the French over 100 years ago, when it was one of their ‘Indochine’ colonies, the sport not only remains popular across the country, but produces its only world-beating athletes.

Wearing her national kit – a loose fitting red polo shirt and matching capris – Ouk Sreymom does not cut the classic image of a sporting world champion. That is until she gives a mini coaching lesson to the lone player practicing at the national petanque courts on a cloudy Saturday morning.

Ouk Sreymom
Ouk Sreymom | © Pete Ford

A quick glance at a target ball at the other end of the court, and she flicks the ball in her hand into a smooth lob with gentle ease, comfortably hitting the target with a metallic ping. And then she does it again a second time.

‘I first played in 1997, when I was 17 or 18. A coach saw me playing around throwing fruit with some friends near the old national stadium, and he asked my mother if he could train me to play petanque,’ she says matter-of-factly.

World beater

After a few months of training she’d joined the national team and was flying to Paris for the World Championships, where she picked up a silver medal in the pairs. She has been a world class player ever since, becoming world champion at this years event in Belgium. Cambodian sporting achievement on the international stage, in most sports, is modest to say the least. In petanque, however, it is a different story.

Cambodia has won some 150 medals in international competition and won five of the 28 available medals at the most recent SEA Games in Malaysia, where Sreymom and Ke Leng won gold in the female doubles.