This year was a mixed bag for Thai athletes on the international front. The Nation looks back at some of the memorable moments and missed opportunities and wishes Thailand's sportsmen and women a brighter future on the international stage in years to com
Hopes sink as target missed
The 2004 Athens Olympics saw Thai athletes brimming with pride after their exceptional performance delivered eight medals including three golds, the best ever Olympic haul for Thailand. Fifty-one athletes went to Beijing four years later and returned with two golds and two silvers. However, things turned sour for Thailand at this year’s Games in London.
The budget had been boosted to Bt67 million to aid the preparation of 37 Thai athletes in 16 events. A target of two gold medals was set, the same as in Beijing. But by the end of the world’s biggest sports extravaganza on August 12, Thailand had claimed just two silvers and one bronze. It was the first time the Thais had returned without gold since boxer Somluck Khamsing won the country’s first Olympic gold medal, in Atlanta in 1996.
In London, silvers for Thailand came from Pimsiri Sirikaew in the women’s 58kg weightlifting, and light-flyweight boxer Kaeo Pongprayoon, whose gutsy performance in the final made him the winner with most spectators, but not with the judges.
He went down 10-13 to defending champion Zhou Shiming of China in the gold-medal match. The last medal, a bronze, was won by taekwondo exponent Chanatip Sonkham in the women’s 49kg event. Thailand’s 0-2-2 medal count earned them first place among Asean countries, but they were 10th in Asia and 57th among all participating countries.
After an action-packed 11 days between August 29 and September 9, the Thai athletes ended their 14th Paralympic Games campaign on a high note by finishing 31st overall with four gold, two silver and two bronze medals, bettering their target of two golds. The success placed the Thais fifth in Asia and first among Asean countries.
Thailand sent 50 athletes to compete in 10 events and each proved that physical handicap is no match for strong spirit and hot talent. Rungroj Thainiyom, who has muscular dystrophy, made headlines by capturing Thailand’s first gold in the men’s individual table tennis, while the boccia quartet led by Pattaya Tadtong won the second in the mixed team event.
Veteran fencer Saysunee Jana took the third gold in the women’s wheelchair epee, while 33-year-old boccia expert Pattaya was on cloud nine after clinching his second gold, and Thailand’s fourth, with a brilliant performance in the men’s individual final. The men’s foursome, including Supachai Koysup, showed good form in the 400m wheelchair relay to bag silver after clocking a season’s best of 3.13.28 sec.
Three-time champions Thailand were unable to deliver their long-suffering fans an early Christmas present in the Asean Football Championship, going down to a 3-2 defeat against Singapore. But despite failing to reclaim a title that has eluded them since 2002, the Thais did more than enough to restore faith with an unbeaten run to the final that included an impressive 3-1 win over defending champions Malaysia in the last four of the biennial tournament now known as the Suzuki Cup.
A capacity crowd in the second leg of the final at Supachalasai National Stadium was compelling evidence that the Thai team’s run of form had indeed caught the imagination of the public. After a long hiatus, the country was gripped by football fever once again.
Spikers’ soaring success
After making history in 2009 by winning their first-ever Asian title, the Thai women’s volleyball team made more progress on the world stage this year. They beat stronger teams, including European champs Serbia and former consecutive three-time Olympic winners Cuba, in the World Olympic Qualification Tournament which almost earned them a berth in the London Olympics. The team proved their talent once again in the FIVB World Grand Prix by stunning top teams such as Serbia, Dominican Republic,
Puerto Rico and Japan to advance to the Finals for the second year in a row. There, Thailand lost to much stronger teams like the USA and Brazil, but stunned hosts China and Cuba to finish fourth overall, their best-ever performance since joining the annual premier women’s competition in 2002. In September, the Thai team made headlines again, beating title-holders China in the final showdown and winning their first AVC Cup for Women. On the back of their exceptional form, seven players in the team signed a six-month contract to play in the Azerbaijan Superleague which earned them Bt20 million.
Thai shuttlers hit high note
The Thai women’s badminton team fared well to advance to the semi-finals of the Uber Cup finals in Wuhan, China, their best-ever performance in the World Women’s Team Championships. Individually, veteran Boonsak Ponsana, now world No 15, captured the Singapore Open title aside from a silver medal at the Japan Open.
Though she has not won a single tournament this year, teenager and world No 9 Ratchanok Inthanon put in a gutsy display against much stronger rivals and captured Thai fans’ attention, especially with her performance at the Olympics. She was invited to play as a professional in the China League. Porntip Buranaprasertsuk, world No 13, claimed the Vietnam Open, while Busanan Ongbumrungpan, world No 17, was invincible in the Malaysian Open. The mixed duo of Sudket Prapakamol/Saralee Thoungthongkham, 6th in the world, captured the Indonesia Open, while the men’s pairing of Bodin Issara/Maneepong Jongjit landed the Vietnam Open and the India Open titles this year.
Football broadcasting revolution
This year saw a revolution in television broadcast rights. TrueVisions, Thailand’s leading cable and satellite television operator, no longer dominates the scene with its rights to broadcast major football leagues. Suddenly, there are several rights holders. On the one hand, it’s good that the monopoly has been shattered and footie fans have more choice when it comes to watching league matches. There is also hope of lower subscription fees. On the other hand, the lives of viewers have become more complicated. If you are a hardcore fan of several leagues, it means you have to buy more set-top boxes, which means more subscriptions, and more money to pay.
Thaworn’s glorious moment
It’s been another golden year for local golf with Thaworn Wiratchant winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit with total prize money of US$738,046. At 45 he is the oldest man to win the honour. Thaworn, who claimed his maiden Order of Merit title in 2005, also set a record of winning 15 Asian Tour trophies including three victories in 2012:
The Queen’s Cup in Samui, World Holdings Selangor Masters in Malaysia and Hero Indian Open in Bengaluru. Young gun Arnond Vongvanij was the other Thai with a crown on the Asian Tour this year following his surprise maiden title in the King’s Cup in Khon Kaen. On the women’s side, Pornanong Phatlum became the first Thai to win an LPGA event with a victory in the HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup in Rio de Janeiro in May.
The Jutanugarn sisters also blazed a trail for Thailand’s next golfing generation with elder sibling Moriya winning a place on the LPGA Tour and Ariya triumphing at the Ladies European Qualifying in Morocco.
Danai the lone tennis hero
It would have been a quiet year for Thai tennis if Danai Udomchoke hadn’t delivered a stunning performance to win the ATP Thailand Open doubles with his long-time buddy Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan. He became the second Thai to win an ATP doubles title since twins Sonchat and Sanchai Ratiwatana, who also won their maiden ATP trophy here in the 2007.
New broadcasting empire?
As in other countries, the highest competition to secure football rights in Thailand was for the English Premier League (EPL). Cable Thai Holding (CTH), a local company, made international headlines after beating out the big boys in the Thai cable and satellite business to win the broadcast rights for the world’s most popular football league for the next three seasons (2013-2015) in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
It paid Bt10 billion, the second-most expensive licence fee in the world – a 432-per-cent increase on what current holder TrueVisions paid for the last three seasons. All eyes are now watching to see whether CTH will become another broadcast empire to rival TrueVisions, once the dominant player in the country. Next year, the two companies will compete again to secure the rights to broadcast the Thailand Premier League.