Thailand's Paralympic athletes returned home from the 14th Games in London to a hero's welcome yesterday after making a big impact, capturing four gold, two silver and two bronze medals to finish 31st overall.
Of the 4,294 athletes from 164 countries taking part in London, Thailand sent 50 (39 men and 11 women) to compete in 10 sports. Their initial target was two gold medals.
Rungroj Thainiyom ignited Thai pride by handing the country its first gold, winning the men’s individual table tennis title.
The other gold medals came from the four-man boccia team led by Pattaya Tadtong, and fencer Saysunee Jana in the women’s individual epee. Pattaya went out with a bang after winning his second gold, in the men’s individual boccia a few days before the Thais’ return home.
The Thai athletes were greeted at 3pm yesterday at Suvarnbhumi Airport by Sombat Kuruphan, assistant minister for tourism and sports, Sports Authority of Thailand governor Kanokpan Jullakasem, Thai Paralympic Committee Foundation chairman Jutinan Bhirombhakdi, their families and a large crowd of fans, who cheered and waved Thai flags. Bouquets of flowers were presented to athletes, some of whom were reduced to tears by the emotion.
The athletes then starred in a parade of cars and open-top buses which made its way to the Conrad Hotel for the reception hosted by the government. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presided over the function and presented cash incentives totalling Bt79.5 million to medallists, coaches and sports associations.
Jutinan said the four gold medals had surpassed all expectations.
“It was a significant success. The athletes made Thailand proud by winning four golds – more than what we had initially expected. I’m delighted to learn that Thais have been able to see the incredible abilities of our physically challenged athletes,” said the TPCF chairman.
“We will continue to develop the potential of our handicapped athletes. I hope to see more support from society and more athletes joining the national team for the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games,” he added.
Sawat Tadtong, father of double gold medallist Pattaya, said he was thrilled about his son’s exploits in London. “I want to spend Bt4 million in constructing 10 new boccia courts in Amnart Charoen,” said Sawat. “It’s what my son has dreamed of for a long time.”