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Fear of failure – When losing with dignity is more important than winning – the story of Bou Samnang.

overcome fear of failure runners
Bou Samnang at the SEA Games

Imagine yourself running a 5,000m race representing your country in your home soil and you are the last one running. For many people, this would be embarrassing enough to be the last one, and many would probably think about quitting. What if you are almost 6 minutes behind the winner, that when the first person finishes, you still have 4 laps to run, and the heavy rains come. For many athletes with fear of failure, the idea of quitting is so easy in this scenario. There are so many excuses to stop: you are the last one so no one cares about your score, the rain is so heavy… ask yourself if this was what happened to you, what would you do.

A real story happened with Bou Samnang, a Cambodian runner who represented their host country Cambodia in the SEA Games 32 on May 2023. Instead of quitting, she kept on running knowing that she has nothing to gain but her dignity. After almost 6 minutes behind the winner, she gave it her all and finished her race in the cheer of a small number of spectators who still stayed despite the rain. With many people, this ought to be an embarrassing moment, facing with the pressure from outside people about how bad her performance was. Bou Samnang probably felt the same, crying while holding her country flag after finished the race.


Little did she know that her courage touches many people who watched the game live or on TV, including The King of Cambodia. The famous English Newspaper Guardian voted this picture of Bou Samnang as the most impressive sport picture of 2023. 

The Cambodian Prime Minister commented that “her act represented a small country with a big heart, a Cambodia who never fall down”. Thus, they decide to make a statue of Bou Samnang as part of the Win Win monument – a famous landmark in Phnom Penh.

Overcome fear of losing results in great achievement
Bou Samnang is waiting to measure body for statue making

Sometimes athletes compete because they want to be famous, and when they fail to achieve what are perceived to be the best price, they give up or put in minimum efforts. Bou Samnang’s story is a prime example of giving your very best every time and the good thing will come (sometimes unexpectedly). This is similar to the story of Derek Redmond who failed to win a medal in the Barcelona Olympics 1992, but went on win the heart of millions of fans around the world.

So the next time, if you are have a fear of failure in your competition, think about Bou Samnang and tell yourself to give your very best effort. Unexpected good things may be waiting for you at the finish line.


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