Thailand are sending their strongest and biggest-ever contingent of 54 athletes to Rio but the country’s eyes will be on the outstanding eight, who look certain to be on the podium during the 31st Olympic Games.
Unlike in previous editions, where Thais excelled in boxing, weightlifting and taekwondo, the country will be looking for medals from unlikely sources – badminton, shooting and golf.
The Sports Authority of Thailand has spent Bt249.4 million for the athletes, who will participate in 17 sports. Five boxers, 3 taekwondo exponents, 9 weightlifters, 7 shuttlers, 5 shooters, 4 track and field athletes, 4 sailors and windsurfers, 3 table tennis players, 2 rowers, 2 cyclists, 2 swimmers, 4 golfers, 1 judoka, 1 archer and 2 tennis playฌers make up the numbers. Badminton star Boonsak Ponsana, ranked world No 30, and table tennis player Nanthana Komwong will be making their fifth consecutive appearance in Olympics.
The elite eight:
1. Wutthichai Masuk: The spotlight is on the light welterweight boxer, a gold medallist at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. Last year he claimed a bronze in the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Doha. Wutthichai is also ranked No 1 in the 64kg class by the AIBA.
2. Ratchanok Intanon: The badminton sensation, who was cleared of doping violation, is currently the world No 4. She caused a ripple in badminton circles this year by capturing three straight Super-series events – the India Open, Malaysia Open and Singapore Open. Ratchanok stunned China’s Li Xuerui to win her maiden world championship crown in 2013 and during the course of this year beat some of the big names in the world.
Though a favourite, Ratchanok underplays her chances. “There is a great deal of expectations in the country that I am a good bet for gold but one must consider the fact that there are many good players out there. I am quite determined to win a medal and will try my best to make the semifinals. If I reach there, I will go all out,” said Ratchanok prior to her departure to Rio.
3. Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit: The skeet shooter, who is making her third appearance in the Olympics, is ranked No 1 in the world. She has won two World Cup events, including an historic gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Rio de Janeiro this April after stunning Olympic champion Kimberly Rhode of the US in the women’s skeet final.
4. Ariya Jutanugarn: The gifted golfer, who has made her mark by winning three straight LPGA Tour titles, became the first Thai ever to capture a major when she claimed the Women’s British Open last week. With the way she is playing the game, it looks like no one can stop the 20-year-old sensation in Rio.
5. Panipak Wongphattanakit: The teenager proved her talent by winning at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, the 2014 Asian Taekwondo Championships in Tashkent and the World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, last year. At 172cms Panipak, 19, packs a powerful punch and her kicks are devastating to any opponent.
6. Pimsiri Sirikaew: The powerful weightlifter won the women’s 58kg silver medal at the London Games four years ago. Her physical strength and technique has improved over the years. Pimsiri can take another big step forward by winning the gold medal.
7. Thanyaporn Prucksakorn: In her third Olympic Games, the sharp shooter has gained valuable experience by appearing in various international competitions. She finished seventh in the women’s 25m standard pistol at the 2008 Beijing Games and made it to the finals at the London Games four years ago. Her chances in the Rio Games cannot be ignored.
8. Thongchai Jaidee: The 46-year-old pro golfer, who in July captured the French Open, has eight European Tour wins. He stands a good chance of handing Thailand a medal.
Thailand’s flag will be raised at the Athletes’ Dormitory today and Ratchanok will be the flag bearer during the opening ceremony at the 78,838-seater Maracana Stadium.
The Kingdom will start their medal hunt when weightlifter Sopita Tanasan, a gold medallist at the 2014 Asian Youth Weightlifting Championships, takes part in the women’s 48kg class competition at 7pm local time (5am Bkk time on August 7).
Thailand, who first participated in the Olympic Games in 1952, has sent athletes to every edition except the 1980 Games in Moscow where it joined the American-led boycott. Boxer Payao Poontarat became the Kingdom’s first Olympic medallist when he picked a bronze in the light flyweight category at the 1976 Montreal Games. Somluck Khamsing made Thailand proud when the featherweight handed the Kingdom the first-ever Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
So far, Thai athletes have won 25 medals at the Olympics, mostly in boxing. Thailand’s most successful Games to date were at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where they won eight medals.
Four years ago, Thailand failed to win a gold medal for the first time since 1996, but left London with two silver and two bronze. Chanatip Sonkham claimed a bronze in women’s flyweight division in taekwondo. Weightlifters Pimsiri Sirikaew won a silver and Rattikan Gulnoi a bronze. In boxing, Kaeo Pongprayoon took the silver in the men’s lightflyweight division.
Once the Games gets underway, The Nation, www.facebook.com/The Nation Bangkok and www.nationmultimedia.com. will continuously keep the readers updated about Thailand’s status on the medal standings.