With only 20 days left for London to officially welcome the world and kick off the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thailand’s athletes, who are in the final stretch of their preparation for the Games, are raring to go.
Thailand are sending 37 athletes from 16 sports disciplines to London with hopes of winning at least a handful of gold medals in the quadrennial sports extravaganza. However, Deputy Prime Minister General Yutthasak Sasiprapha, president of the Olympic Committee of Thailand, poured cold water on the dreams by saying a couple days ago that, winning just one gold medal in the July 27-August 12 Games, itself will be deemed a success.
“Things and conditions have changed. In my view, we will win only one gold medal this time and it can be achieved in weightlifting, not in amateur boxing where we were traditionally strong,” Gen Yutthasak said.
“Only three Thai boxers have qualified for the London Games and truly speaking, all of them have not made a name for themselves. They have to take some of the world’s formidable rivals from powerhouses such as Cuba, China, Russia and the US. Their hopes are not that high this time. Therefore, I think weightlifting is the only gold-medal prospect for Thailand, while skeet and trap shooting and taekwondo are the next two sports disciplines where our athletes can spring some surprises,” he added.
Gen Yutthasak said that the preparations of the Thai athletes are in full swing. “They are ready to do their best. However, if things turn sour and Thai athletes fail to make their mark in London and return without any gold, it would be an upset. For those competing in the Olympics, it’s not winning that always matters, but it’s to take part.”
The Thai athletes made their debut in the Olympic Games in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland. Boxer Payao Poontarat handed Thailand the country’s first Olympic Games medal after claiming bronze in the 1976 Montreal Games. Another boxer, Dhawee Umpornmaha, captured the first silver Olympic medal for Thailand in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, with Somluck Kamsing making history by winning the Thailand’s first Olympic gold ever in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Thai athletes have won 21 medals in Olympic history, mostly in boxing. However, Thailand’s most successful Games to date was the 2004 edition in Athens, where they won eight medals including three gold and one silver.
In the previous Games in Beijing, Thailand spent Bt60 million in sending 51 athletes from 12 sports disciplines for training and participation compared to Bt67 million to prepare 37 athletes from 16 sports for the London Olympics.
The Thai delegation returned from Beijing with four medals, including two golds for boxer Somjit Jongjohor and women’s weightlifter Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon.
One of Thailand’s bright prospects of winning a gold is Pen-Ek Karaket in the men’s 58kg taekwondo. The 22-year-old is the current Asian champion and a silver medallist in the Guangzhou Asian Games.
Moreover, three boxers, Kaew Pongprayoon, Chatchai Butrdee and Sailom Ardee, seven weightlifters including Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon and Pimsiri Laosirikul, badminton players such as Ratchanok Inthanon (in the women’s singles), Boonsak Ponsana (in the men’s singles) and Saralee Thoungthongkam/Sudket Prapakamol (in mixed doubles), and skeet and trap shooter Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit also have good chances of winning medals.
To encourage the Thai athletes to bring glory to the land, huge bonuses are promised by the government. Each Thai winning a gold medal will get Bt10 million, silver medallists Bt5 million and Bt3 million for bronze medallists.
Sponsors have also promised to offer incentives to medallists. Channel 7 and Siam Commercial Bank will award each gold medallist Bt1 million. Silver and bronze medallists will be awarded Bt500,000 and Bt300,000 respectively.