August 13, 2012 00:00 By Kitinan Sanguansak
Boxer Kaew wins Thai hearts as the country is outraged after he is denied Olympic gold in controversial decision
A simmering feeling of injustice lingered yesterday in the wake of veteran light flyweight Kaew Pongprayoon’s controversial loss to three-time world champion Zou Shiming of China in the boxing at the London Olympics.
Kaew might have won only a silver medal, but the diminutive fighter won the hearts of the Thai people with his spirited display in his bout against the Chinese, which looked more like a wrestling match after Zou repeatedly pushed, rammed and nearly tackled his opponent. The fight was paused several times after the two fighters fell to the canvas.
Spectators were clearly upset with Zou’s antics in the ring, subjecting the Chinese to rounds of boos while rooting for the Thai to claim the scalp of his decorated opponent, who has won everything in his glittering career. Even TV replays showed only the moments of Kaew’s punches hitting their target with impact.
Kaew’s 13-10 loss in the final of the 49kg category meant the Kingdom failed to win a gold for the first time at the world’s biggest sporting event in 16 years. It also ended the country’s proud record of winning at least a boxing gold at every Games since Somluck Kamsing’s groundbreaking success in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
The outcome seemed to be less of a surprise as many pundits expected the top seed Chinese to successfully defend his Olympic title without trouble against the Thai, who was making his first Games appearance at the age of 32. However, the bout turned out the opposite of what people anticipated as Kaew, the last of the three-member Thai boxing team, fought his heart out, taking the game to the Chinese, who turned away from confronting the Thai on several occasions.
Although the Kamphaeng Phet native failed to cap his remarkable performances in London with the Olympic title he craved, he will still return home tomorrow a national hero. His gutsy effort made him the toast of the public for boxing in a manner that encapsulated his never-say-die spirit.
The Thai received big cheers from the Excel Centre crowd while leaving the ring – which spoke volumes in itself.
It seemed a bit harsh for the 32-year-old to have his campaign end in such controversial circumstances after having to wait for 12 years to get the opportunity to chase his Olympic dream. The sight of the Thai collapsing to the canvas in despair while the referee raised the Chinese fighter’s hand clearly depicted a man whose dream was shattered.
There was further drama after Cuban coach Omar Malagon refused to accept Zou’s handshake, then gesturing to the crowd that his man had won and even holding up his hand in triumph, which drew deafening cheers.
“I was confident that I won the first round. In the next round, even though I caught him several times, I was still trailing behind. In the final round, I didn’t know why the referee deducted a point from me. But, without the deduction, I knew I would still end up losing anyway. The refereeing was no doubt a major factor. It’s an unfair result.
“I did my best. Prior to the fight, I was still confident because in the previous two encounters in which I faced him it was pretty close. Zou was not at fault for what happened. It’s the judges who should give victory to the one who deserved it,” said Kaew, who struggled to hold back tears in the post-bout interview.
The Thai camp tried to lodge a protest against the decision but the AIBA officials refused to accept it, claiming it was done later than the stipulated five minutes after the end of the bout.
With the Thai boxers failing to claim any gold at the London Games, General Boonlerd Kaewprasith, the Thailand Boxing Association president, confirmed he would resign from every post including in the AIBA.
“We all saw what the audience at the venue thought about the outcome. When we failed to do it [winning a gold] in the end, there is no point in my staying on in the position. Initially, we made a verbal agreement with AIBA to host the Youth World Championships. After it has turned out like this, I think we will no longer hold the event. I will step down from my AIBA post as well,” Boonlerd said.
Thai fans stormed popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter to express their frustration with the result, with many clearly feeling Kaew as the victim of biased refereeing, while others pointed to the politics within the sport’s governing body as having cost the country the title.
In consolation for Kaew’s loss was a report that the amount of money for winning a silver medal has continued to increase, with the current figure estimated at Bt23.4 million from both the government and private sector.