When it comes to the Olympics, there are the strong nations, the less good, the weak and the abject. Communist Laos is in the last category
VIENTIANE: The sun is setting over the scruffy outdoor stadium as Kilakone Siphonexay, the fastest man in Laos, lies on the home-made, wooden weights bench, raises both arms and grips the
When it comes to the Olympics, there are the strong nations, the less good, the weak and the abject. Communist Laos is in the last category. But with facilities like this, it’s hardly a surprise.
The landlocked country, which was extensively bombed during the war in neighbouring Vietnam and ranks as one of the world’s poorest states, has not only never won an Olympic medal — it hasn’t even come close.
“We’re not strong like the USA or the British,” chef de mission Kasem Inthara tells AFP, as he sits in a dingy stadium office. “We’re in a group like Brunei or East Timor. We’re a small country.”
Even getting to London would be a victory after not one Laotian qualified for the 2012 Games by right, leaving them waiting for special dispensations to compete in athletics, swimming and taekwondo.
Kilakone, wearing an Arsenal football team shirt and tight running trousers, trains for three hours each evening in Chao Anouvong Stadium, an ageing facility in the heart of the capital, Vientiane, which dates back to pre-communist 1961.
For Kilakone, and female 100m hopeful Lealy Phoukhavont, 16, it’s a simple routine consisting mainly of sprinting and acceleration work. Weight training is minimal, and specialist nutrition is non-existent. According to Kasem, the challenges facing Laos’s athletes are simple: no facilities, few competitions, and the weather is too hot. Plus, the people are too short, he says.