Three Olympics-bound taekwondo exponents, including gold-medal hopeful Pen-Ek Karaket, yesterday made a min-pilgrimage to three sacred sites as a morale-booster ahead of their departure for London on July 28.
Braving the morning rain, Pimol Srivikorn, president of the Taekwondo Association, yesterday led the squad – Pen-Ek (men’s 58kg), Rangsiya Nisaisom (women’s 57kg) and Chanatip Sonkham (women’s 49kg) on the visit to three shrines. Accompanying them were TAT vice-president Pricha Tortrakul and head coach Choi Young-seok, the high-profile South Korean who played a significant role in the success of Thai exponents at the previous two Olympics.
The squad visited the revered Erawan Shrine (Phra Prom Statue) at Ratchaprasong Intersection, then the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine before ending their tour at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha where they paid homage to the sacred jade image. “We prayed for success at the Olympics,” said Chanatip, responding to questions.
Among the trio, Asian champion Pen-Ek has the strongest chance of winning a medal. After returning victorious from the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010, he went on to land a gold medal at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan.
“I’m in great shape physically. I have never been as fit as this,” Pen-Ek said when asked about his preparation for London. “Good results at major tournaments mean I’m now ranked third in the world in the 58kg class.”
“In London, I’m confident of winning the first two rounds. In the third round or the semi-finals, I might encounter Taiwan’s Wei Chen-Yang, who beat me in the final in Guangzhou. If I can get past him, a silver medal will be within my reach. And getting to the final would mean a 50-50 chance, but I would give my all to win Thailand’s first Olympic gold in taekwondo.”
Rangsiya, who became the first Thai ever to win a World Championship gold medal, in 2011 in South Korea, said she was determined despite her slim hopes of collecting gold in London. “A place in the semi-finals is my target. However, anything can happen in a tough competition. If I can maintain my good form, I believe I can spring a surprise and return with a medal,” said the 17-year-old from Chon Buri.
Chanatip, who has bronze medals from the 15th Universiad in Serbia, the Asian Championships in Vietnam and the WTF World Cup Team Championships in China, vowed to go all out for a podium place.
The trio is aiming to add to Thailand’s total of two Olympic medals in taekwondo. Yaowapa Boorapolchai claimed the women’s 49kg bronze in the 2004 Athens Games, while Butree Puedpong stunned rivals by picking up a silver in Beijing four years ago. The TAT has set its sights on winning at least one gold in London.