Queen Ariya reigns supreme
2018 has been an amazing year for world No1 golfer Ariya Jutanugarn, taekwondo exponent Panipak Wongpattanakit and J-League footballer Chanathip Songkrasin. For some sports, however, it’s been a year best quickly forgotten. Here are The Nation’s picks of the biggest sports stories of the past 12 months.
Ariya Jutanugarn ruled over women’s golf, winning her biggest trophy yet – the US Open – and two more LPGA titles: the Kingsmill Championship and Ladies Scottish Open. She then became the first woman in history to clean sweep all the major awards: Player of the Year, Race to CME Globe, Annika Major Award, LPGA Vare Trophy, Top 10 Leaders and No 1 Money List. Older sster Moriya and Thidapa Suwannapura also celebrated their own LPGA title wins. Kiradech Aphiranrat proudly continued to fly the flag for Thailand’s in the men’s game, breaking into the Top 30 and becoming the first Thai to earn his full membership card for the world-leading PGA Tour.
Mighty Mouse Chanathip Songkrasin emerged as one of the Kingdom’s most successful football players ever, scoring eight goals for Consadole Sapporo to help them to their highest ever J-League finish (fourth). Just 158cm tall, Chanathip was voted by his teammates as the team’s most valuable player of the season but the highlight of his career was being included in the Team of the Year at the recent J-League Awards, the first Asean footballer to ever receive such an honour.
Taekwondo star Panipak Wongpattanakit ended the year as the undoubted world No 1 in the women’s 49kg category after snaring a total of six titles. Her major wins included two World Grand Prix titles, in Manchester and Taoyuan, the Asian Games gold medal and two gold medals in the World Taekwondo Grand Slam Champions Series. The 21-year-old from Surat Thani is one of the hottest Thai prospects at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
For the first time in history, the women’s badminton team reached the final of the Uber Cup. Led by three top-10 players – Ratchanok Intanon (singles) and the doubles pairing of Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai – the hosts upset 14-time champions China 3-2 in the semi-finals at the Impact Arena in May but fell short in the gold medal match, 3-0 to Japan. The event will return to Bangkok in 2022.
After back-to-back wins over Roman Gonzalez of Nicaraqua that earned him the WBC super-flyweight belt in the US last year, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai returned to Uncle Sam in February to defend his title and succeeded with a majority decision over Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico. He later beat another Mexican Iran Diaz with a unanimous points decision on home soil in October, a bout featured in the One Super Series.
Despite being a football-obsessed country, Thailand managed to nonetheless host a highly successful MotoGP event in Buriram – in fact the Kingdom’s debut went down so well in the sport it was voted the best MotoGP stop of the calendar. More than 220,000 fans packed into the Chang International Circuit, the highest turnout of any MotoGP race in 2018. A clever use of E-taen trucks – northeastern agricultural vehicles – as “shuttle buses” was one of the tournament’s highlights.
Ever since the retirement of legendary tennis player Tamarine Tanasugarn in 2016, Thai tennis has been lamenting the lack of an heir apparent … until Luksika Kumkhum ended the long wait for a Thai champion on the WTA circuit by winning two WTA 125K Series in Mumbai and Taiwan in November. That strong finish helped her to wrap up the season on a career-high No 66 in the world. The Chanthaburi-born player also reached the third round of the Australian Open in January, the second Thai to do so in 21 years, after Tamarine in 1997.
The 18th Asian Games was a priority event for Thai athletes in 2018 but the the team’s campaign in the quadrennial event ended in disappointment. Only 11 golds were brought home, far short of the projected 17-20 hopes for by sports chiefs. Out of those 11 medals, only three – by shooter Sutiya Jiewchaloemit in the women’s skeet, Panipak Wongpattanakit (taekwondo) and cyclist Jai Angsuthasawit (men’s keirin) – came from Olympic standard sports.
One of the biggest flops of the year was undisputedly the shock semi-final exit of the Thai football team at the AFF Suzuki Cup. The five-time champions were seeking a hat-trick of triumphs but crashed out on the “away goals” rule, managing just a 2-2 draw at home rule after a 0-0 draw with Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. A poorly taken late penalty by Adisak Kraisorn, which would have taken the team into the final, ranks among the most painful memories for Thai football fans this year.
The passing of Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprapha in a helicopter crash was a great loss to Thai sports this year. The former CEO of King Power made headlines around the world when he inspired The Foxes to a fairytale Englidsh premier league crown out of nowhere in the 2015-2016 season. His death brought an outpouring of grief, not only in Thailand but also in the global sports scene.