Official Development Assistance (ODA)
ODA and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta
Among the other noteworthy events of the 1996 Olympics, the Games in Atlanta marked the first time in 24 years that Cambodia took part in an Olympic competition. Behind this fact lies a story of remarkable cooperation between a certain Japanese ODA worker and a Cambodian man.
Among the entrants in the 1996 Olympic swimming competition were the children of General Secretary of Federation of Swimming Amateur Cambodia Mr. Hem Thon. Mr. Thon, a competitive swimmer himself in his younger days, is a former protege of Masahiko Nakamura, now the head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency's Tokai branch. Back in 1966, Nakamura was dispatched to Cambodia as a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer to help coach the swimmers on Cambodia's national team, of which Mr. Thon was then a member. Nakamura eventually returned to Japan, and the subsequent outbreak of civil war in Cambodia brought an end to his correspondence with his former pupils. When peace was finally secured, however, Nakamura once again received word from Mr. Thon and was deeply touched to hear that his former pupil had sustained his passion for athletics, even in the midst of such terrible conditions. Nakamura saw to it that the proper equipment was sent to Cambodia to help the country achieve its goal of returning to the Olympics and carried on various other activities to assist Cambodia's competitive swimming programs, thus helping to ensure that the dream of Olympic competition that had been passed on from father to children would finally be realized.
The young athlete who proudly carried the Cambodian flag in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games was the marathon runner Miss Rithya. Miss Rithya's very first try at marathon competition was in a national qualifying road race held in preparation for the Asian Games in Hiroshima. The qualifying race, which Miss Rithya won, was held on the road, having been improved by Japan and the ASEAN nations, as part of a rural development project conducted in cooperation with the U. N. Development Programme.
Thus, in a sense, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was an occasion to see the seeds sown by Japanese assistance efforts blossom and help realize Cambodia's dream of a revitalized, world-class athletics program.