Thailand’s hopes of an elusive Olympic gold medal remained alive last night after veteran light flyweight Kaew Pongprayoon edged out Russia’s David Ayrapetyan 13-12 to book a place in today’s final showdown against reigning Olympic champion Zou Shiming of China.
After 14 days of competition at the London Games, which conclude tomorrow, the Kingdom has managed to claim only a silver medal from weightlifting and a bronze from taekwondo. The tally is a far cry from the haul the country achieved in the previous edition in Beijing, where Thailand claimed four medals, two of them gold.
Kaew, 32, is the country’s last remaining hope in London. Yesterday’s win gives the Kingdom a chance to salvage its pride with an Olympic title for Kaew, who is making his first and possibly last Games appearance.
Given his age, it is perhaps inevitable that many have compared Kaew to former Olympian Somjit Jonjohor, who ended his career with a flourish by capturing a gold at the age of 33 in China four years ago. The boxers also have two stand-out characteristics in common – strong determination and a never-say-die spirit. Those attributes came to the fore in Kaew’s win over the third-seeded Russian last night, Bangkok time.
Entering the ring in a pair of white shoes – a lucky charm given to him by Somjit, who bought them from the Cuban opponent he beat in the final in Beijing – Kaew started his bout strongly, landing a couple of counter-punches cleanly. However, the opening round ended in a 3-3 draw.
Facing an opponent shorter than him for the first time, Kaew adjusted his boxing style by taking the bout to the Russian in the second round. The move paid off as the Thai surged forward by a single point. In the third and final round, Kaew stood firm in the face of a fierce attack from the Russian and eventually came away with a win by the slimmest of margins.
Kaew’s victory was celebrated jubilantly in every corner of the country, including the diminutive fighter’s home town, Kamphaeng Phet, where a big crowd crammed his parents’ house to watch his semi-final bout on giant screens. His 68-year-old mother Mali, who became an Internet sensation with a video clip showing her wearing red gloves and punching the air while cheering her son in previous rounds, said she would gave Kaew a big kiss on the cheek when he returns home.
“This is the happiest day of my life. My son is the best. He’s going to win the gold 100 per cent,” said a delighted Mali.