Recently, I wrote about the benefits of exercise and physical fitness. But I must confess there is one thing that will keep me glued to the television set – “March Madness.” March Madness is a popular term for the annual U.S. men’s college basketball tournament that crowns a national champion. This year’s tournament started on March 19.
March Madness has grown to become one of the most popular sporting events in the United States. This single elimination tournament takes place during the course of three weekends in March and April in various cities across the United States. The first weekend starts with a field of 64 teams, with lower-ranked teams playing against higher ranked teams in their “bracket” or group. The following weekend of play features the remaining 16 teams, commonly referred to as the “Sweet Sixteen.” The last weekend is called the “Final Four” in which the remaining four teams compete for the national championship. This year, the Final Four will happen in Atlanta, Georgia.
What makes March Madness so special are the dramatic finishes, the emotions of the players and fans, the displays of athletic skills, and of course the “Cinderella” teams or underdogs. Cinderella teams usually come from small schools, are ranked low in the tournament, and achieve at least one unexpected win in the tournament. George Mason University (in 2006) and Virginia Commonwealth University (in 2011) are two recent Cinderella teams that made dramatic runs during March Madness to reach the Final Four and play in the national semifinal game.
Joining an office pool and completing a tournament bracket is a popular activity associated with March Madness. Fans fill out a bracket by picking the winners in each round to see who can best predict the tournament most correctly. An interesting note, studies have estimated that office pools lead to billions of dollars in lost productivity because workers are busy filling out their brackets and watching the games. I try to watch as many March Madness games as I can, but I won’t be watching the games at work!
Since entering office, President Obama publicly fills out a tournament bracket and predicts a winner. This year, I join the President in selecting the Indiana University Hoosiers to win it all.
When I walk along the riverfront in Phnom Penh, especially in the early evening, I am delighted to see groups of Cambodians exercising together. People are doing aerobics, playing hackie-sack, and using the training equipment. It’s a very social atmosphere, with people not only exercising, but also meeting up with friends and catching up on the latest news.
The U.S. Embassy staff also values the benefits of exercise. In fact, we just concluded our annual “Biggest Loser” competition – a contest based on the popular U.S. television show that recognizes the person who loses the most weight in three months. This year’s winner, Jamal Jafari from our Political Section, lost an impressive seven percent of his original body weight! We also have a gym inside the Embassy that allows employees to exercise during lunch or after work. We even recently started a weekly yoga class. Helping our staff members take care of themselves is an effective way to maintain employee morale and productivity.
Seeing everyone exercising here in Cambodia has motivated me to redouble my own efforts to stay fit. Recently, I started a new fitness regimen that includes running to accelerate my heart rate, weightlifting, squats, and stretching. Not only is this helping me to “get into shape,” it also helps relieve stress and maintain my health, so I am working hard to exercise on a consistent basis.
Another way I like to keep in shape is through sports, which have always been an important part of my life. My favorite sport is baseball, and it’s a great way to get some exercise. And after attending a kickboxing match recently, I can tell you that kickboxers are in really good shape!
Exercise and physical fitness are important to keeping our bodies, and minds, in shape. I hope to see you at the gym or running along the riverfront!
Since my arrival in Phnom Penh last April, I have very much enjoyed attending kickboxing matches, or Kun Khmer as Cambodians call them. I have always liked sports and learning about unique athletic competitions in other parts of the world. From talking to Cambodians, I have learned much about the importance of Kun Khmer to their country’s history.
The sport is a combat martial art that uses nearly every part of the human body: the hands, legs, elbows, knees, and feet. It has been passed down from generation to generation for many centuries and inspired other forms of martial arts, like Muay Thai.
On Saturday, I invited my daughter and some of the Marine Security Detachment from the Embassy to join me in watching some very exciting matches. Many thanks to the folks at Cambodian Television Network (CTN) for being such wonderful hosts. Please take a look at the following video to see the great fun we had.
Growing up in America, sports have always been a large part of my life – from little league to high school and through my time as a college student. So a few days ago, I started searching on the Internet to learn which sports were popular here. Driving around Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, I’ve seen runners, swimmers, and tennis players heading for their daily workouts. I’ve noticed games of hackie-sack and makeshift soccer matches while strolling along the riverfront. But what intrigued me the most was what I stumbled onto while roaming the Internet: the Wikipedia page of the Cambodian National Baseball Team.
I love baseball. As a Bostonian, I’ve been a Red Sox fan for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of watching games with my daughter and throwing the ball around with my sons. Baseball is the most fundamentally American sport there is, and I was so excited when I found this team. It’s a sport of such grace; each player’s moves flow with purpose. For many Americans, baseball is more than just a game. Imagine walking up to the plate, swinging at the ball, getting as far as you can, and then returning home with a success under your belt. That is what baseball means to me: the potential to achieve whatever lofty aspiration you take a swing at.
I am encouraged to see baseball making inroads in Cambodia not only because it is a favorite sport of mine, but also because it represents an aspiration toward something great and working hard to achieve it. And traveling throughout Cambodia, taking particular notice of the nation’s youth, I can already see baseball’s lessons and values taking shape.
Prior to my arrival, several of my colleagues traveled to Kampong Thom to play a friendly baseball game with some Cambodian youngsters. I can’t wait to take a trip there myself to catch a game, and I can tell you right now that I’ll be the loudest fan in the crowd! Have you played or watched baseball before? If not, I encourage you all to make it to the next CNBT game—maybe you’ll see (or hear…) me there!
On Tuesday night, with the help of the U.K. Embassy in Phnom Penh, we hosted an Olympics Viewing Party here at the U.S. Embassy. I not only met British Chargé d’Affairs Lesley Saunderson, but I was also able to watch the games with Cambodians from all over Phnom Penh. When it comes to watching sports, “the more the merrier” is my motto, and I had a fantastic time!
We’ll also be hosting a Paralympics Viewing Party in September, so be on the lookout for new updates on this blog and our website at http://cambodia.usembassy.gov/.
The Olympics started last week, but I’ve been having a difficult time finding my favorite American and Cambodian athletes on television. I’m also a big fan of men’s swimming and women’s soccer games, but it’s nearly impossible to find entire games or races on television.
But one of our interns at the Embassy just showed me that the International Olympic Committee is providing free live streaming of all the events via YouTube. How great is that? Illegal downloading and streaming are major problems in both the U.S. and Cambodia, and it’s terrific that the IOC is offering this free and legal service to countries where full media coverage of the Olympics might be difficult to find.
You can find the Olympic YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/olympic, and you can search through live events to find your favorite sport. You can even watch events that have already happened in case you missed some! What events do you like to watch during the Olympics? Who are some of your favorite Cambodian athletes competing this summer? I’d love to do a feature on my Facebook page, so please let me know!
P.S. Check out this funny video from the USA Swimming Team!
Everyone at the Embassy would like to send our congratulations to Dr. Nary Ly for her first place win at the Phnom Penh International Half Marathon this past weekend! Dr. Nary works at the Naval Medical Research Unit-2 detachment based here in Phnom Penh as a Research Scientist. Nary is an inspiration for female athletes throughout Cambodia and the world.
A survivor of the Pol Pot regime, Nary was sent to France at a young age. She went on to receive her Ph.D from Bordeaux University, France in 2006. The following year she went to New York to do her post-doctorate at the Immunology Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. During that time her love of running grew and she was able to run her first full marathon at the famous ING New York City Marathon in 2009. The pioneer Cambodian female running long distance competitively, she spent the following years cutting down her time and perfecting her skill.
From January 7th until the Paris Marathon on April 15, Nary was running in Kenya with some of the best runners in the world. She wrote, “This journey is my only one chance to get qualified for the Olympics, if I can run under 2 hours and 43 minutes. This is a big challenge and would be my greatest personal record. For sure, these coming 4 months will not be all easy days, but it will be a victory for myself and for Cambodian sports if first, I survive the Kenya training and get somewhere close to the 2 hours 43 minutes.”
Nary is a national hero and I commend her for her hard work and dedication. All of us at the Embassy hope she continues to run and inspire other young Khmer women to do the same. While Nary has not been chosen to attend the Olympics for Cambodia, we wish our best to those who have. Best of luck to: Chan Seyha (f)- 200m sprint, Sorn Davin (f)- taekwondo, Kieng Samorn (m)- 800m middle-distance run, Khom Ratanakmony (m)- judo, and Hem Thon Vitiny (f) and Hem Thon Ponleu (m) in short-distance swimming. We will be following along as you pursue your dreams!