July 16, 2012 00:00
By Kitinan Sanguansak
Chatchai wants to win for his unborn child, while Kaew hopes for great swansong
Thailand’s boxing team, led by veteran light flyweight Kaew Pongprayoon, arrived in England in a relaxed manner with expectations low about their prospects in the Olympic Games.
Thai expectations are usually high when it comes to their boxers, who have been winning a medal at least in the world’s biggest sporting event since Somluck Kamsing’s groundbreaking success in Atlanta 12 years ago.
However, it would require a tremendous effort from the Thai fighters, if they had to come home with any medal this time, given what happened over the last two years. It all began with a dispute with the sport’s governing body, the International Boxing Association (Aiba), which led to the abolition of the Amateur Boxing of Thailand. It has been downhill ever since.
There was no doubt the off-the-ring trouble affected the Thai boxers’ preparations after only three fighters managed to secure places in London.
Of the trio, only lightweight Sailom Ardee has the experience of boxing in the Olympics before. So, it comes as no surprise when many pundits say that it would be a tall order for the three to replicate the country’s proud record of winning at least a medal in boxing every time they took part in the Games since 1976.
Without the burden of expectations on the shoulders, Kaew, Sailom and Chatchai Butdee think it could work in their favour as they hope to take a leaf out of Wijarn Pholrit’s book after the unfancied fighter defied all the odds to win a gold medal in Sydney.
The three Thai boxers were among the first group of the country’s Olympic team to arrive in England for the Games on Friday. They have a training camp in Manchester as a result of cooperation between the Sports Authority of Thailand and the city’s council before moving to London on July 25.
AP Honda led a group of Thai media to visit the trio at the hotel they are staying to lend them support. After a day off to recover from the long-haul flight, the boxers looked fresh for the challenges lying ahead. They also have an added incentive to fight with AP Honda promising to give each athlete Bt1 million if they claim a gold medal.
“My condition is quite good. I have no injury problems. The only thing now is to adjust to the weather here but it should not be a problem. I’m ready for my biggest test,” said flyweight Chatchai, who and the other two received an amulet apiece from AP Honda before heading out for the first training session in England.
With his wife expecting their first child next month, Chatchai hopes to win a medal as a gift for his baby.
“It would be the best possible gift if I claim any medal. I would have a good chance to do that if I get a good draw.”
Sailom would be the first of the Thai fighters to box in 60kg class in the Games but he felt no pressure as he aimed to exorcise the ghost of 2008 when he was eliminated in the preliminary round.
“I’m ready, physically and psychologically. Many believe I have the least chance of clinching a medal. I think it’s a good thing as there is no pressure. I want to prove them wrong,” said the Khon Kaen native.
After waiting for 15 years to make his first appearance in the Games, the 32-year-old Kaew hopes to follow in the footsteps of Somjit Jongjohor, who clinched the gold medal at the same age in Beijing four years ago.
“Given my age, it would be my first and only appearance in the Games. I’ve been waiting for this time for nearly 15 years. I suffered a lot of disappointments during that time so I’m determined to make the most from this opportunity,” he said.