Bounty of Bt1 million plus prizes for every gold winner
Sports Authority of Thailand governor Kanokphand Chulakasem is hopeful that the Thai squad will maintain its Olympic gold medal-winning run in the London Games, which gets underway next week.Thailand have won at least one gold in every edition of the world's biggest sporting event since boxer Somluck Kamsing's success in the 1996 Atlanta Games. In Beijing four years ago, they managed to claim two gold medals from flyweight veteran Somjit Jongjohor and weightlifter Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon.
However, many have expressed concern over the country's prospects. Some fear the winning streak will come to an end given that none of the 37 athletes Thailand are fielding in 16 disciplines seem certain medal winners.
Even in boxing, a sport that has yielded four gold medals so far for the country, there is a distinct possibility that the three fighters, Kaew Pongprayoon, Chatchai Butdee and Sailom Ardee, will flop on the big stage, given their relative inexperience at the top level.
Thailand's prospects in weightlifting are equally shaky even though the country is sending their largest-ever contingent of seven. All are unproven. Questions have also been raised about the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association's decision to leave out Beijing heroine Prapawadee.
Many pundits believe Thailand's best hopes of winning a medal in the London Games lie in the hands of the taekwondo team, with fast-improving Pen-ek Karaket seen as the best hope in the men's 58kg category. However, given the fickle nature of the Korean martial art, the result could be decided in just a blink.
Despite that, Kanokphand, who attended a conference yesterday to announce AP Honda's financial support of Bt1 million for any athlete winning an Olympic title, remained optimistic and set a minimum target of one gold medal for the Thai squad.
"Winning the Olympic gold medal is very difficult but this time it would be doubly tough for us. Many have such sentiment because we have too small a number in sports such as boxing that was our best bet.
"At the moment, Thai sport has been in a transition phase. There were internal changes in many sport associations. For example, we just got a new boxing body last year after the old one was abolished following a dispute with the sport's governing association, the International Boxing Association.
"So, the athletes' preparation did not go well during the Olympic qualifying process, resulting in a disappointing number of our athletes making it for London. However, the fact that we were able to secure the berths in as many as 16 sports showed that we're still on the right path.
"Even though our preparations in qualifying was not good, we have prepared our athletes very well for the Games. Some of them have trained in Manchester as a result of cooperation between SAT and the city's council.
I firmly believe our athletes would be in the best possible condition when the event starts.
"We might struggle to achieve the two-gold haul we claimed in Beijing but I still think one gold is achievable for us. Should we manage to do more than that, it's a bonus."
Asked what he would do if the Thai team returned home empty-handed, Kanokphand replied: "I hope that scenario will not happen. But, if it does happen, it will no doubt be a bitter disappointment. We would need to talk and find a solution together"
Kanokphand also welcomed AP Honda's contribution to support the Thai athletes in their bid to bring Olympic glory back home. Apart from the financial incentive, the company would hand a CBR 250R bike to any athlete who wins any medal as well as offering the athlete the company's brand ambassador role.