August 15, 2012 00:00 By Lerpong Amsangiam The Nation
Thousands greet Thai athletes after their return from Olympics yesterday; traffic in Bangkok reduced to a standstill
Thailand’s Olympic athletes returned home to a resounding heroes’ welcome yesterday after capturing three medals – including two silver – at the London Games.
The Kingdom finished 57th out of 205 countries that competed in the four-yearly sports extravaganza.
The stars were boxer Kaew Pongprayoon and weightlifter Pimsiri Sirikaew, who took silver in the light-flyweight 49kg class and the women’s 58kg division, respectively, while Chanatip Sonkham claimed bronze in the women’s 49kg taekwondo event.
Even before the Thai Airways flight from London landed at about 3pm, a huge crowd had gathered at the arrival terminal, reminiscent of scenes four years ago when Thai athletes flew back from the Beijing Games with four medals, including two gold.
It rained hard yesterday when TG917 landed with the country’s sporting stars. Thousands of fans, including 200 from Kamphaeng Phet – boxer Kaew’s hometown – who arrived on three buses, and 20 of Chanatip’s classmates from Satree Phatthalung School, made it to Suvarnabhumi Airport earlier to cheer their heroes.
On arrival, the athletes were taken to the Airport VIP Lounge. On seeing his mother Mali, Kaew rushed to prostrate in front of her. It sparked an emotional scene when both mother and son hugged each other. Mali gave her beloved son kisses and Kaew did likewise.
“I did it, mum. I did it. I love you the most, mum,” Kaew said, after his silver-medal bout early on Sunday (Mother’s Day).
“Winning no gold does not matter. You already did your best, son,” Mali told Kaew.
Ichitan green tea billionaire Tan Passakornnatee was there, and presented a Bt10-million cash cheque to the boxer, as promised.
When the Olympic team walked out to the arrival lounge, a major celebration broke out, with drums being beaten and hordes of fans and reporters greeting them, some carrying bouquets of flowers.
With garlands placed around their necks, the athletes seemed dazed by the grand reception. And the big crowd burst into excited screams as Kaew and Chanatip showed up, with fans shouting their heroes’ names and their chants echoing in the terminal.
Weightlifter Pimsiri, who flew back earlier, and other Olympians, including swimmers and badminton players, also went out to greet their team-mates.
When all the athletes took to a stage, with the three heroes flashing their medals, the audience broke into thunderous applause.
Generous sponsors started to present cash incentives and various rewards to the medallists, plus others who finished in fourth place or performed well at the Games.
From then, it was a carnival-like atmosphere. The athletes waved to the crowd, while being taken on a tour in open-top buses through the streets of Bangkok.
The bus parade to cheer the top athletes’ success was wet until the rain surprisingly stopped moments before the celebration procession arrived at Victory Monument. There, tens of thousands of supporters lined the route, shouting “Thailand! Thailand!”
Many took photos of the sports stars on their mobile phones.
Kaew stood on the open-top city-tour bus, waving happily to the large crowd. Pimsiri and Chanatip did the same from separate convertible Peugeot cars.
Traffic at Victory Monument stood still as a large number of passers-by stopped to wave and shout to the athletes, but the mood was cheerful. Drivers were all smiles, and many got out of their cars to wave to their heroes.
Heading to Siam Paragon, the procession received an amazing greeting from supporters lined up on both sides of the street in central Bangkok.
At the shopping mall, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra congratulated them and organised a public function to acknowledge the Olympians’ performances.
The prime minister presented certificates to all 37 Thai athletes who took part in the Olympics, which ran from July 27 until Sunday. Cash incentives from the National Sports Development Fund totalling Bt20 million were also given away to the three who returned with medals, as well as the staff coaches and their sports associations.
Each of the two silver medallists got Bt6 million, and the bronze medallist received Bt4 million.
Thai medallists from the recent Asian Beach Games in China also took part in the party hosted by the prime minister. They got Bt26.6 million in awards from the government.