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Chanatip proves the saving grace for Thais

Thailand's Chanatip Sonkham poses with her bronze medal on the podium.

Thailand's Chanatip Sonkham poses with her bronze medal on the podium.

Thai taekwondo fighters had mixed fortunes on Wednesday with Chanatip Sonkham thrashing Guatemala's Elizabeth Zamora Gordillo 8-0 in the bronze-medal match to hand Thailand the second Olympic medal while Pen-Ek Karaket had no such luck, returning home empty-handed.

Chanatip, Pen-Ek and Rangsiya Nisaisom were medal hopefuls in the top-flight competition. In the women's 49kg division, Chanatip, the 21-year-old from Phatthalung, a bronze medallist at the 2010 Asian meet, made a splendid debut in the Olympics by overwhelming Russia's Kristina Kim 13-1 in the first round.

She continued her dazzling form in the quarter-finals, stunning second-seeded Yang Shu-Chun 6-0. The Taiwanese had been regarded as a strong contender in the class after she captured the Asian title this year and won second place in the World Championships last year.

The successes carried Chanatip to the semi-final clash against third-seeded Yague Enrique Brigitte, a former three-time world champion from Spain. In the first two rounds, the Thai fighter fared well to land three-point offensive kicks to the head of the Spaniard twice to take a commanding 6-2 lead.

Brigitte, 32, counter-attacked in the third round. She produced an exceptional roundhouse kick to the head of Chanatip, which got her four points to tie at 6-6. Chanatip kicked back, to her rival's head, to score three points, but it was an effort that went in vain.

Brigitte fought hard in the closing seconds, landing a decisive blow to win the bout 10-9 and break the Thai's dream of reaching the final.

Brigitte went up against reigning champion Wu Jingyu in the final but suffered a humiliating 8-1 defeat to the top-seeded Chinese star. In the bronze-medal match, Chanatip proved too much for Guatemala's Elizabeth, beating her 8-0 in a one-sided battle for a consolation bronze.

For the third place, Chanatip will receive a big bonus. Besides Bt4 million from the National Sports Development Fund and a Bt120,000 motorcycle from Honda, Chanatip will also get Bt300,000 apiece from Osotspa, McDonald's, AIS, Siam Commercial Bank, Khaosod, Channel 7, ThaiBev and Ichitan, while Channel 3 has promised to award each bronze medallist Bt500,000 cash.

Nutchaya, who was cheering for her daughter Chanatip in her hometown Phatthalung, said the medal is a present from her daughter on Mother's Day on August 12.

"She told me she would do her best to win at least a bronze medal in London and that would be a present for me. I'm glad she kept her promise by accomplishing her target. No matter what colour the medal is, it's always important to Thai people," Nutchaya said.

Phatthalung's residents are planning a victory parade for Chanatip around the province upon her arrival.

Meanwhile, the hearts of Thai fans sank when medal-hopeful in the men's 58kg class and third seed Pen-Ek suffered a first-round 8-7 loss to tall Lee Dae-hoon. The South Korean is the world champion and a winner in the Guangzhou Asian Games.

Despite the defeat, the Thai had a chance of competing in the repechage and fighting for a bronze. Lee kept Pen-Ek's high hopes alive by taking on top-seed and defending champion Joel Gonzalez Bonilla from Spain in the final showdown. Lee went down 17-8 to Gonzalez.

Pen-Ek won the first repechage over Egypt's Tamer Bayoumi 6-4 but went down to Colombia's Oscar Munoz Oviedo in the bronze medal match. Pen-Ek trailed Oscar 4-6 in the third round, but a few seconds before the end of the clash, the Thai fighter landed a three-point headkick. As all Thai fans at the competing venues celebrated Pen-Ek's win, Oscar appealed against the judges' decision and it was accepted.

Pen-Ek left the arena with disappointment writ large on his face. Yesterday, world champion Rangsiya Nisaisom, the third and last fighter in the Thai camp, suffered a first-round loss 4-1 in the women's 57kg division to top-seeded Tseng Li-Cheng from Taiwan.

Rangsiya badly needed Tseng to continue her winning streak to the final in order that the Thai could make amends in the repechage.




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