Olympic greats see golden Games
'Thai medal prospects strong in boxing, taekwondo, weightlifting'
Three former Olympians led by Somluck Kamsing, the first Thai to win an Olympic boxing gold medal, have talked up Thailand's prospects in the upcoming London Games.
The country is fielding 37 athletes in 20 disciplines in the world's biggest sporting event, from July 27 and August 12 in the English capital.
Since Somluck's groundbreaking success at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Thailand have won at least one gold medal in subsequent editions of the Games. However, some fear that the Thai team may return home empty-handed this time, with no standout medal prospect in the roster.
Thailand are in a transition phase in many sports including boxing and weightlifting, the two disciplines in which the country has a good record. Flyweight Somjit Jongjohor and weightlifter Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon will not defend the Olympic titles they won in Beijing four years ago as the former has retired while the latter was surprisingly axed from the team last week.
However, Somluck, along with 2004 Olympic weightlifting champion Pawina Thongsuk and Buttree Puedpong, who clinched the silver medal in Beijing in taekwondo, expressed confidence in the current team at an event hosted by Thailand Post yesterday, where the public were encouraged to give support to athletes through postcards.
In boxing, the Thai squad of three fighters, Sailom Ardee, Kaew Pongprayoon and Chatchai Butdee, have experience limited to winning titles in the SEA Games, but Somluck believes the trio has what it takes to succeed in London.
"If you are able to book a berth in the Games, it shows that you are a good fighter. But if they are to succeed, they have to sacrifice a lot of things and train hard to improve their skills. I believe the efforts they put in will not be in vain. If I could win the gold, why can't they?"
Somluck, whose famous phrase was "I'm not boasting", believes mental attitude is an important factor in tournaments like the Games' boxing.
"Back then, people thought I was exaggerating when I said I would win the gold. But I just said it because I was really confident of my ability.
"So, I want the three boxers to have the same mindset and believe in themselves. Self-belief decides the outcome, particularly in top-level boxing. When you step into the ring, you must not fear anyone," said the 39-year-old.
Many pundits believe that taekwondo is the country's best hope for a medal at the Games, and 22-year-old Buttree echoes that sentiment. She is backing the Thai squad of three exponents, Rangsiya Nisaysom, Pen-ek Karaket and Chanatip Sornkham, to win the country's first Olympic gold in the Korean martial art.
"I think they all have an equal chance to win the gold as each is a highly capable athlete. I can't say who has the best chance because it all depends on the draw and how they perform on the competition day.
"For me, everything clicked on that day and I still can't believe that I made it to the final in the Olympics. I hope one - or all of them, if possible - can go one better than me this time and taste Olympic glory," said Buttree, who lost to the favourite Wu Jingyu of China in the women's 49kg category.
Despite the country's relatively inexperienced squad in the weightlifting competition, Pawina, who became the first Thai woman to win Olympic gold, in Athens - where Udomporn Polsak also took gold - was optimistic that they would clinch at least one medal.
"The athletes have been training well for months, so they have a decent chance of coming home with a medal, if not a gold. There is not much difference in the statistics between our athletes and the Chinese, who are our main opponents."